How can art be used to raise the collective environmental consciousness? Photographer Ian Shive may have at least some of the answers.
Only 33, he is the latest luminary to join an illustrious circle that includes the likes of Dewitt Jones and Robert Glenn Ketchum—winners of the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography from the Sierra Club. Ian received this year’s award on Sept. 23.
Ian credits Adams as the creator of the entire genre that his own world revolves around. “The way he saw the outdoors as an art form really sets a precedent for my business, my way of living, the way I see the world, the way a lot of people see the world,” Ian says during an interview with The Epoch Times.
“To this day his work stands out,” Ian says. “It’s just stunningly beautiful. It’s so many decades and ways ahead of itself. It looks as new today as it probably did then.”
Steve Hawk, executive editor of Sierra magazine, said in a phone interview that conservation efforts are a key element to winning the prize, mentioning Ian’s Wilderness Diplomacy work with people in Afghanistan.
Adams, an early figurehead in the Sierra Club, is widely known as the first great nature photographer, Steve explains.
“Among people like Ian—nature photographers—Ansel Adams is as iconic as you get.”
Ian became aware of conservation just over four years ago when he started working as a full-time photographer and was hired by National Parks magazine.
He draws so much from being outdoors—peace of mind, health, enjoyment—and sees conservation as his opportunity to not just take from nature but also give something back.
“You’re not just illustrating a story; you’re becoming an advocate for a story by sharing the amazing aspects of the uniqueness of the setting.”
Ian hopes his work will inspire more people to get out and experience nature. “If you can create a photo that makes people go ‘wow,’ or you dispel a myth about something, whether it’s a lizard or a shark, that makes people less afraid.
“Photography is a great way to connect people with places,” he says.
He seeks to reach people who aren’t already aware of the environment, by marrying science and entertainment. For instance, he is developing an app to let people see behind the scenes of a shoot.
“I don’t try to shape people’s opinions,” he explains. “I’m interested in getting people outside and planting the seed so they can develop their own answers because I think they’ll develop the right answers on their own.”
Ian is working on a long-term project to document the world’s most endangered ecosystems, “the wildest places.”
He has also just begun working with the U.S. Department of Interior to document the nation’s wildlife refuges. “In many ways, it’s actually very similar to what Ansel Adams did many years ago when the National Parks Service hired him to go out and show these places so that people would be interested in them.”
Interestingly, Ian says he draws most inspiration from painters. His key principles are composition, lighting, and color palette.
“Color combinations are probably the single most important thing, and obviously the symmetry in the landscape,” he elaborates. “In my mind I see an equilibrium in the shot, and that’s something I’m naturally attracted to.”
He aims to capture specific ideas, yet usually it doesn’t happen that way. “But you have to start there, I think. It’s part of the process, and sometimes it works out exactly. You never know which way it’s going to go, but that’s the fun of it!”
Ian mentions his deliberate night shot of a giant sequoia. “I always think of trees drinking from the sky, and I wanted to somehow show that, but not during the day with a typical shot looking up.”
Another time, while visiting White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, Ian took a photograph—one of his personal favorites—that he describes as very “Georgia O’Keefe-esque.”
“I had certain ideas, but when I saw it, I knew instantly that that was something that I wanted to create at that moment,” he recalls. “But I could have never predicted the situation—the combination of rain and weather, overcast—it was just pure luck.”
Ian says that photography “is absolutely an art,” because “you don’t see Ansel Adams’s work out there,” even though most of the world’s population now has some sort of camera technology.
He explains that only certain people, namely artists, have the storytelling ability to articulate their unique perspective.
“It doesn’t just come,” Ian concludes. “I’ve worked for it my entire life to get to a point where I’m still not satisfied. I think that makes it an art per se.”
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