Around 20 years ago I met Karl Amman, a Swiss nature photographer working in Africa, and one night around the campfire he told me stories of close encounters with lions, with elephants and with herds of wildebeest a million strong. He also told me of his almost compulsive obsession to “do something” to protect the land he so loved.
That evening changed my life and a few years later, I’d become a freelance photographer. Broke but happy. I then spent a fair few years after that globetrotting, searching for photographic gems that I could show to the world. Puffins, seals, grizzly bears and wolves – they were all on my wish list. It was great fun but ultimately, without context, the images didn’t mean a great deal. I knew I had to “do something” more meaningful with my camera.
“Doing something” initially manifested in a project called Tooth & Claw, a journalistic foray into our often skewed relationship with predators. That project taught me a lot about predators and even more about people. It also taught me that harnessing the emotional power of visual storytelling was one way that I could contribute to something I was passionate about. It was a route into “doing something.”
In 2008 I joined a project called Wild Wonders of Europe, which commissioned 70 of the continent’s top nature photographers to reveal the natural treasures of Europe; to tell Europeans the story of their own home. There are bears and wolves in Europe; blue whales and polar bears; deserts and glaciers: not every European knows this. It is a land rich in nature where surprisingly perhaps, wildlife is coming back thanks primarily, to a change in societal values. Wild Wonders produced a book in eight languages and a major street gallery exhibition, which traveled throughout Europe. Eventually I exported the Wild Wonders model to the UK and 2020VISION was born in 2010.
On the face of it 2020VISION is about great photography but really that’s just a currency. 2020VISION is really about communicating; telling compelling, positive stories; it’s about inspiring a change in people’s value systems. Over three years our 20 photographers showcased 20 major projects up and down the country, which are working to restore, reconnect and revitalize whole ecosystems. These ‘rewilding’ stories all have one thing in common: people. They demonstrate that given the will, people can work together to ensure a healthy future for both themselves and wildlife. We can rebuild our natural home.
In many ways then, 2020VISION brings me full circle in terms of “doing something”. During that process my philosophy about photography has changed completely and I no longer consider myself a photographer, but a Visual Communicator. That sounds terribly pretentious I know, but for me it’s no longer about the individual image but about the story and it’s the story that can inform, inspire and ultimately, make an audience think differently and feel differently.
One of the most uplifting aspects of working on 2020VISION was seeing the heroic efforts of individuals, community groups, conservation bodies, landowners and others. They were all “doing something”; they were all making a positive difference. Restoring our land (and sea) scapes is not really a conservation objective. You don’t have to be in love with wildlife for this to matter because this is also about us. We rely on fresh water, clean air, healthy soils and pollination. These are just a few of the ‘services’ we get from nature and they’re free. But they won’t last forever unless we change the way we think and act; unless we ‘do something’. The great news is that we can and the stories behind 2020VISION clearly show that we can.
Throughout 2020VISION we worked with numerous conservation groups including WWF on their freshwater conservation programme which works to protect England’s unique but threatened chalk streams. But of course WWF can’t do this on their own… As worthy as all of the projects that 2020VISION covered undoubtedly are, they are simply not enough in isolation. Rebuilding our Natural Home isn’t just the job of WWF, or RSPB or the Government or landowners; it’s everyone’s job. Everyone can ‘do something’.
30 years ago none of the projects we covered had even been conceived. 30 years ago we didn’t have the knowledge, or resources, to change whole landscapes. And if we’re honest with ourselves, 30 years ago we didn’t really care. But we do now. Or at least many of us do now. The challenge for those of us that do care is getting everyone to care because great things happen when people care. They ‘do something’.