iLCP Featured Fellow – Boyd Norton

August 11, 2015

The Sierra Club just awarded iLCP Fellow Boyd Norton the prestigious Ansel Adams Award,  which honors an individual who has made superlative use of still photography to further a conservation cause.  In the wake of this well earned prize, we bring you an interview with Boyd, as our Featured Fellows for August-September 2015.


iLCP: What conservation issue are you most concerned with right now and why?

Boyd Norton: The protection of the Serengeti ecosystem is of great concern to me. I’ve been traveling there for over 30 years now and I’ve seen too many changes taking place that aren’t good. For five years now a handful of us have been battling to stop a major commercial highway from being built right across the national park. This would be the death knell of the greatest land mammal migration on earth and in the process unravel the web of life in this ecosystem. So far we have managed to stop this madness but it’s not over yet. And there are other issues as well. Human settlements and livestock overgrazing is pressing right up to the boundaries of the protected areas and sometimes beyond. And then there’s the tragic and rampant poaching taking place. So far the Serengeti ecosystem has been relatively safe from the organized gangs of poachers that have killed 60% of the elephants in southern Tanzania’s reserves and parks. However, I expect that, with that depletion of elephants and rhinos, the poachers will now focus on the Serengeti region. We must not let that happen!

What do you like best about being in the field?

Most of the time it’s the sheer joy of being in wild country. It’s rejuvenating for me. But at the same time I feel a responsibility to record the values, the beauty and the feeling of the place I’m in. And then there’s the challenge. Documentary photography is a blend of skill and problem solving: How do I get the best portrayal of a subject? What is my story? What elements are in that story – people? Pollution? Beauty? I experienced all of this when I was one of the EPA’s Project DOCUMERICA photographers in the 1970s.

What is your best scary, funny or inspiring story from the field?

Scary? Being charged by a bull elephant while on foot at Kuki Gallman’s Ol Ari Nyiro wildlife reserve on the Lakipia Plateau in central Kenya. I was photographing the elephant when he got pissed off and came at me full speed. One of Kuki’s rangers stood up and clapped his hands loudly. It startled the elephant and he stopped – at roughly the same distance as the pitcher’s mound to home plate. Then he sauntered off peacefully. Funny? Standing on the back end of a raft on the wild Salmon River in Idaho, I was trying for a shot of great lighting on the gorge downstream when I lost my balance. Flailing my arms to regain balance I lost my grip on the camera and watched as it sailed in a smooth arc over my head and into the river. Well, it wasn’t so funny then but I can laugh at it now. Inspiring? The late David Brower of Sierra Club and Earth Island Institute fame was both my mentor and friend. It was inspiring to sit next to him in an office in the Kremlin in Moscow as he made an impassioned plea to Eduard Shevardnadze, Russia’s Foreign Minister, to protect Lake Baikal in Siberia and nominate it to UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Three years later it was so designated.  Dave did it.

What value do you see in an organization like iLCP?

The very existence of iLCP is a source of inspiration to nature photographers everywhere. We represent the best in the field of conservation photography. We set the standards for quality and ethics and in turn set a good example for other photographers. I think it is important that we, as members of iLCP, need to mentor and inspire and to keep bringing into the fold the up-and-coming professional to carry on the work.

What do you get out of being a member of the iLCP Fellowship?

Communication. Information. Knowledge. I like to know what others in our clan are working on. Even though I may not be involved in certain projects, it’s very helpful to know how my colleagues are dealing with the subjects and issues.

What makes a great Conservation Photographer?

TOTAL INVOLVEMENT! We are documentary photographers. It means documenting the good, the bad and the ugly. But beyond creating powerful images we also have an obligation to take an active role in solving a problem or stopping some environmentally damaging project. Our great photography makes us experts in a given area. We should be testifying at decision-making hearings or, at the very least, making available those powerful images to the people who will testify.  Through our images we have the power to change minds and to shape policies. Look at the involvement of Alison Jones, Amy Gulick, Wendy Shattil, Bob Rozinski, Gary Braasch, Kathy Feng, Dave Showalter, Jim Balog, – oh my gosh, I might as well list everyone in iLCP!

Where in the world you haven’t photographed yet is at the top of your wish list, and why?

Even though I’ve been to a number of places in Siberia over many years, there are still some other wild parts of that vast land that intrigue me and I need to explore them.

As a youngster he was orphaned  due to logging of rainforest; he was raised with umans but never learned skills to survivive in the wild and lives in confinement.