Bridget Besaw is one of those enviable women who are blessed with immense talent, a contagious passion, and the entrepreneurial acumen to transform that into a livelihood that sustains her and the planet she cares so deeply for. Now she’s putting those abilities to good use by pioneering a relatively young genre of photography that brings visual storytelling to environmental organizations and mentoring a new generation of image-makers in the art and profession of creating high-impact conservation media.
Her abilities were never more evident than when I traveled to the remote wilds of southern Chile last year to learn and record the story of Patagonia conservation as a participant in one of her Leica Akademie photography workshops.
As an avid adventurer and outdoor photographer, I joined the workshop for the sheer visual promise of the Patagonia landscape, people and culture, but returned with far more than memorable images. The experience not only expanded my knowledge and how I perceive the world, but also how I perceive myself and my abilities.
I managed to catch up with her recently and asked her to share a bit about her work and upcoming photography workshops.
What is conservation photography?
For me, it is a hybrid of photojournalism, landscape and wildlife photography—but always with an emphasis on the ways in which people interact with nature. I promote conservation photography as a new genre in the realm of professional photography. I dream of a day when a person who is passionate about photography might search the various career options (fashion, fine-art, sports etc) and also discover this niche where a great living can be made while pursuing a fulfilling, adventure-filled profession. Conservation photography is also a tool for advocacy, so it requires the photographer to be a strong image-maker as well as knowledgeable about the history, science, politics and intrinsic human connection behind the stories they are bringing to life with their imagery.
How would you describe what you do?
Well the standard cocktail party response is: “I am an advocacy photographer and filmmaker for environmental causes.” I tend to work on long-term projects for environmental NGO’s that culminate in various outreach and marketing tools to help raise awareness and (hopefully!) incite action.
The more romantic answer: I aspire to use visual storytelling to evoke an instinctive reminder to care for the planet that sustains us.
Are there photographers out there that you admire for their ability to evoke a passion for the planet?
There are so many greats! Some of them can be found in the ranks of the International League of Conservation Photographers.
Many years ago Jim Balog gave me some great advice about the need for tenacity while pursuing personal projects. I’m a big fan of his work for its ability to really spotlight an issue with fine art photography and now film. Joel Sartore has brought me to tears with his endangered species portraits, and I’m in awe of Chris Rainier’s work on indigenous cultures.
Are you pessimistic or optimistic about the environmental future?
When I was a kid my dad nicknamed me “the worrywart” for my tendency to fret about the plant and animal world. I was that kid who worried that the trees and fish had no voice to stick up for themselves. I still feel deep sadness for our human disconnect to nature, but since turning my camera exclusively toward the environment in the past 10 years or so, I feel more hopeful about the changes that are taking place in my lifetime. We are beginning to make better, more sustainable choices and I believe storytellers are a critical part of that shift in illuminating our options and encouraging us to make the right choices.
Tell us about Seedlight Workshops and your collaborative efforts with Leica Camera.
Seedlight is my production company where we make short documentary style environmental films and teach conservation photo workshops. I’ve been supported by Leica Camera Company since 2007 when they supplied me with their new digital rangefinder and helped me to produce the project for the Maine Farmland Trust From the Land which we eventually turned into a book. Leica has just gone a bit out on a limb by including my brand of workshop into their suite of offerings at the Leica Akademie North America. So together we’ve taken the traditional destination workshop and added a conservation angle to it for those interested in creating imagery from this perspective. This year we have one in Bar Harbor Maine, partnered with the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and one in coastal Patagonia where we partner with the Melimoyu Ecosystem Research Institute to create our imagery and to support their conservation mission.
In today’s world, what can conservation-minded travelers do to protect the places we love the most?
Travel to them and photograph them! But do so with thoughtfulness. So choose the places you stay based on eco-tourism guidelines. Be knowledgeable about the way your travels will affect the nature-based economy and the natural ecosystems of the region. And then photograph and write about your experiences and use social media to spread the word about the challenges and successes of the places you have visited.
What was the first trip you ever took that really changed you?
When I was 16 I travelled to Nicaragua to photograph the conditions in the country under the shroud of the US backed militia, the Contras. Our group of five students organized the trip in protest of US activity in the region, and I was the designated photographer of the group. My images wound up in newspapers back home and were my first taste of the power of imagery to shed light on the truth.
What’s next for you?
Seedlight is embarking on a wild ride this summer! We are continuing my long and fulfilling relationship with the Maine Farmland Trust to now create a series of short films about their work to secure a future for farming and food sustainability in New England. Also a continuation of a previous book project is a short film we’ll make about wilderness preservation in the northwoods of Maine. And we’ll make another series of short films and a body of imagery for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust too. All before the snow flies again!
Bridget Besaw is an environmental documentarian whose photo, film and book projects have tackled conservation and sustainability issues throughout the world. To learn more visit bridgetbesaw.com and seedlightpictures.com. Or you can catch up with her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
About Ellen Barone: Consumer travel expert Ellen Barone is the founder and publisher of TravelUpdatesbyEllenBarone.com and YourLifeIsATrip.com. She’s currently at work on her first book - I COULD LIVE HERE. Click here to learn more or stay connected on Twitter at,Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn.