iLCP Featured Fellow – Alison Jones
iLCP Senior Fellow Alison Jones is spearheading the No Water No Life project. In efforts to raise awareness of the vital importance of freshwater resources, perils of watershed degradation and opportunities for sustainable resource management, Alison Jones and her team are working with photography, scientific research, and stakeholders to make real and lasting changes. For that and for her continued efforts in the fields of conservation and photography, we name Alison Jones our Featured iLCP Fellow for March 2016.
Downstream impacts of new dams worry elders in Ethiopia’s Omo River Valley
- iLCP: What conservation issue are you most concerned with right now and why?
Since the NWNL mission is to document freshwater quality, availability and usage, my mind is always swirling with many concerns. But just back from East Africa this week where women and children walk many miles daily to collect water, I am reading about the questionable quality of water being delivered here in US cities. This growing problem is foremost in my mind right now – and many Americans’ minds! The presence of lead in Flint MI water and Teflon toxins in Hoosick Falls NY water is inexcusable. How can we know if the water coming out of our faucets is safe?
When NWNL began 9 years ago, I didn’t expect that water quality here could be a comparable problem to water quality in Africa. Likewise, I’ve documented dams that will reduce Kenya’s Lake Turkana by two-thirds; but didn’t expect to visit California homes without water for 15 months due to farming and drought. I’ve followed foreign agriculture replacing indigenous Ethiopians on the Omo River; but didn’t think I’d see Mississippi Delta communities like Isle de Jean Charles receiving $60 million to move off island since impacts of sea level rise and oil drilling are washing it away.
Today none of us are immune to the consequences of our growing populations, consumerism, short-term goals and climate change. Our water supplies are suffering due to loss of habitat, wetlands and forests. Water poverty, drought and famine is spreading. Upstream-downstream conflicts and the chaos of resource-based migration loom. No forest, no water, no food, no peace, no life.
- What do you like best about being in the field?
When in the field, I feel Nature will correct our mistakes. I love being in rainforests where I can squeeze a jarful of water from moss hanging on native trees. I celebrate when a fish biologist says our interview will be done while floating down a salmon river. I jump at a childhood friend’s insistence I kayak across the Mississippi with her to know “the tug of the river.” The complexity and efficiency of Nature is bigger than all of us combined – and makes more sense than all philosophies combined. And on top of feeling that strength, I can use my camera to capture both the grand and the minute details of Nature’s magic.
- What is your best scary/funny/inspiring story from the field?
The saddest moment I’ve experienced in 9 years of photographing for NWNL was in CA. The San Joaquin River flows from the Sierras to the Pacific; but midway, at the San Mateo Road in Mendota, it dries up due to irrigation withdrawals. In the river’s last pool of water, guarded by a great blue heron, were about six salmon circling each other and then darting into the shade of a willow to hide from me.
My scariest moment was immediately followed by my funniest moment. I was in Kenya’s Mara River Basin photographing the setting sun through red-oat grass when a puff adder slithered around the contour of my Teva sandal. After it completely disappeared, I quickly reached for the nearest can of beer. The fact I had always hated beer suddenly didn’t matter!
I’ve witnessed two very positive and historic river events in the US: the decommissioning ceremonies of Elwah and Glynes Canyon Dams in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and the restoration to the Columbia River’s Chinook Nation of a replica of a canoe Lewis and Clark stole 7 generations ago. Each was an encouraging sign of reparation.
The most inspiring part of my 30+ NWNL expeditions has been interviewing stewards and residents protecting their watersheds. NWNL calls this collection “Voices of the River.” In the Columbia River Basin I’ve met a farmer more worried about bringing back migrating salmon than his wheat crop. I’ve met Africans re-planting forests seedling by seedling. Along the Lower Mississippi I’ve interviewed a chemist, a Spanish scientist and a mom – each working from small living rooms cluttered with folders and files that demand Petro-chemical Goliaths clean up their waterways. After photographing a village of Kenyan women’s sustainable farming project, they grilled their last chicken and named me “Furaha,” meaning happy in Swahili. And just 2 weeks ago, a Kikuyu cabbage farmer in Kenya said I could be his 3rd wife – if I get a bit fatter!
- What value do you see in an organization like iLCP?
Time spent with iLCP Fellows and staff is always a great shot in the arm and supports my belief that stewardship is a part of human nature. The ILCP Fellowship nourishes that inner stability that keeps us going despite enduring scenes of doom and gloom. It is not a case of “misery loves company;“ but rather the sharing of successes and funny stories, resources and tools to better hone our message and get it out there. iLCP is there to make sure we keep at it!
- What makes a great conservation photographer?
Successful conservation photographers need patience, curiosity and an innate belief that our images verify that we all come from the same origin. That is what spurs the desire to safeguard our environment. Conservation photographers stir the pot with images that will awaken a sense of initiative; reorganize viewers’ priorities; and highlight the ability we each have to change our destiny.
A conservation photographer seems to be born with a stubborn refusal to accept the status quo. We are driven – and honored – to communicate what’s right and wrong with the world. While our days are intense, exhausting and sometimes dangerous, we keep going deeper — working on a given theme in all weather, often over many years, and despite the faint odds that sometimes haunt us that no one will care.
While intimately connected to our times, we seek the historical and sociological contexts necessary to communicate that our planet belongs to everyone. We are carried along by something bigger than ourselves, and in turn that nourishes us to continue using our cameras to break down barriers between people and their origins.
- Where in the world would you wish to photograph next, and why?
I am always ready to go wherever there’s a story on the availability (or not) of dependable clean water. I believe a problem is an opportunity, that — when exposed — stimulates solutions. So, show me a problem, and I’ll go! Water is the universal hub of life and I am happy to follow any spoke in that wheel if I can help rouse awareness of the value of our precious natural resources.
I am en route right now to investigate the impact, or lack thereof, of El Nino on the CA drought. And some day, when Egypt no longer insists I must hire a local photographer to supply my imagery, I would like to document the Nile Delta, comparing and contrasting it to the Mississippi Delta. But meanwhile NWNL already has many photos and interviews from the last 9 years to edit, collate and disseminate. So I had best go back to my desk now!
NWNL Blog http://www.nwnl.wordpress.com/
Photo Shelter http://www.alisonjones.photoshelter.com/
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