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 Chase Fountain | TPWD

Picture This

The Power of Photos

Images have become effective tools for conservation.


Twenty-five years ago, I walked through the front door of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department headquarters in Austin as a staff photographer — a welcome relief after eking out a living as a freelancer for the preceding 15 years. The new position gave me the opportunity to travel to every corner of Texas, photographing the people, places and things that define the state’s great outdoors.

EarlThen

 Wyatt McSpadden

Walking out that same door for the last time at the end of March 2021 was bittersweet, to say the least. I was flooded with memories of the adventures and friendships I had during my time at TPWD. On my drive back home, I began to ponder the many experiences garnered from a quarter-century of visually documenting the agency’s multifaceted mission, as well as the various ways photography has played a part in the public’s perception of and appreciation for natural conservation and the outdoors. 

Personally, I was looking for some bottom-line takeaway that could concisely define what, if any, effect my work had contributed to the agency and, ultimately, to the people of Texas. I needed a bookend.

Now, a few weeks into retirement, and after some reflection, the takeaway is clear. It wasn’t about my photographic work at all but about photography itself and the power it has had, and continues to have, as a powerful advocate and ambassador for conservation.

All  Earl Nottingham | TPWD

Over time, the camera has become not only a device to take a pretty picture but also a viable tool for outreach. The predominant factor that has made it such a valuable tool is the evolution of digital technology. Gone are the days of shooting traditional film and waiting for it to be processed and scanned and laid out for publication. The digital image is instantaneous and easily shareable, and can be used not only in printed media but also on websites and social media, thereby extending its reach tremendously. 

From a conservation perspective, images can connect with current outdoor lovers and with new and underserved constituents as well. The power of the photograph to influence is evidenced by the almost 350 million photos uploaded on Facebook each day, not to mention the plethora of other social media platforms.

The camera has also gradually gained its place as required outdoor gear, regardless of the activity. Whether hunting, camping, hiking or just walking in the park, a camera is there — usually in the form of a smartphone camera that can capture not only a scene but its nuances, such as a flower petal or insect closeup, adding to the enjoyment of the experience on a more intimate level. 

Additionally, the amazing new sensors of digital cameras and smartphone cameras allow us to capture more “wow” scenes such as the low light of early morning, the softness of late evening or the glow of a campfire — scenes that were difficult to get with less-advanced cameras. A beautiful and memorable photograph has become the new “trophy” for many outdoor adventures.

Looking forward, there is every reason to believe that new methods and opportunities to photograph and share our love and concern for the outdoors will always be just over the next horizon. I’ve made a career of driving toward those horizons, and now I finally get to enjoy the scenery in the rear-view mirror.

This is Earl’s last column for Texas Parks & Wildlife. Picture This will continue as a photography column.

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