Earlier this month, Time asked half-a-dozen of the world’s most prominent nature photographers to choose the photos from their work that moved them the most.
The idea was predicated on the idea that wildlife photographers play a major role in preserving what’s left of our fragile ecosystem.
The camera is a tool through which photographers share their unique, individual experiences of the natural world.
Whether it’s reflecting the tangible effects of climate change on the planet’s ever-changing environment to creating a visual record of animal species on the brink of extinction, these photographers play a critical role as passionate advocates for the natural world.
One of the most significant international climate agreements in a generation came into effect on Nov. 4, but the future remains cloudy for many species. Here’s a snapshot look at some of theirwork, as chosen by the photographers themselves and shared by Time’s LightBox editors.
Perhaps the most striking image — because of its setting in one of the world’s best known, most densely populated cities — is National Geographic veteran Steve Winter’s night-time camera-trap photo of a mountain lion known to the National Park Service biologists as P-22. The cat’s tracks had been spotted in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. Winter set up camera traps along trails where P-22 was known to roam. Even at that, it took Winter 15 months to capture this image. P-22 would go on to become “the poster child” for wildlife corridors — lanes of safe passage that allow restless, nomadic predators to roam from one protected area to another. Winter’s image proved instrumental in passing a California government initiative that established a “wildlife overpass,” over Freeway 101 at Liberty Canyon. “This image means a lot to me,” Winter told Time, “because it made a difference.”
Michael “Nick” Nichols took the famous “Michelangelo” photo of a chimpanzee reaching out to touch a strand of primatologist Jane Goodall’s hair. This this less flashy, more prosaic image of elephants moving towards a life-giving rain shower in Northern Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park reflects the wilderness at large, though. “If we lose this,” Nichols told Time, “our planet will have an empty heart.”
Washington, D.C.-based photojournalist Cristina Mittermeier has devoted her entire career to photographing indigenous cultures and their tenuous relationship to an increasingly fragile environment. Her travels have taken her from the Kayapö village of Aukre in the Amazon Basin to Qaanaaq, the northernmost settlement in Greenland, where she took these images of Inuit hunter Naimanngitsoq Kristiansen. Dismissing climate change as a hoax is not just idle talk from ill-informed politicians or a cynical ploy to boost the fortunes of oil companies, Mittermeier says. At best, it’s irresponsible, and at worst, it’s downright dangerous. The Inuit, Mittermeier told Time, are losing an ancient way of life. “The Inuit people will be some of the most dramatic and tragic victims of climate change.”
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