Stepping into the 2012 International Conservation Photography (ICP) Awards exhibit at the Burke Museum in Seattle, one is overcome by the sheer beauty of nature.
But beauty can be deceiving.
Many of these photographs, while masterfully composed and brilliant in their conception, present a chilling warning behind their crystal-clear pixels and bright hues.
A kaleidoscopic swirl of colors darkened by the silhouette of a ship mast turns out to be an oil slick on the Puget Sound. Fog misting off the Willamette River in Oregon and shot through with sunlight is actually industrial pollution. A sea otter captured underwater looks playful, until you notice the fishing line ensnared in its flesh: a “necklace of death,” as described by the photographer.
Some are more subtle than others—like an Icelandic landscape at morning, which hints at what may be lost if global warming continues unabated. Others, such as a dilapidated shopping cart buried in the fetid water of the Duwamish River, scream out that something is terribly, terribly wrong.
And this is the very mission of acclaimed Seattle photographer Art Wolfe, the founder of the biennial ICP Awards. In addition to recognizing the talents of amateur and professional photographers, the competition is meant “to educate, inspire, and motivate the public through a photographic exhibition that will create a sense of urgency and move people to take action.”
Although the winning photographs hail from all across the globe and entries represent nearly all seven continents, some of the most poignant images strike closer to home. Among these: a shot of a crisp Tacoma evening marred by vapors streaming from smokestacks; a bifurcated image representing the clash between commuter highways and urban wetlands in Union Bay; and green rolling hills in the Palouse which are slowly being eroded by pesticides and fertilizer.
And some photographs even relate directly to Washington Wild’s current campaigns. “Circle of Life,” which won 1st Place in the Flora category, depicts the cool undergrowth of Mount Rainier National Park—an area that was threatened by an initial version of HR1505, a bill which would allow the Department of Homeland Security to waive 36 key environmental laws on federal public lands within 100 miles from the Mexican and Canadian borders and coastal areas. “Last Stands” portrays the loss of 75% of Vancouver Island’s old-growth temperate rainforests to logging, a tragedy that could be repeated in the Olympic Peninsula, lest legislation protects the area through new Wilderness and Wild & Scenic River designations.
Out of more than 1,500 images entered by over 300 photographers, only 75 spectacular shots were chosen for nine categories: Community at Risk, Documenting a Conservation Project, Flora, Landscape, Natural Environment at Risk, Puget Sound at Risk, Student, Underwater, and Wildlife. The exhibit runs from June 30 through November 25, 2012.
Go see the ICP Awards, marvel at the beauty of nature which is so exquisitely captured in art form, and support one of Washington Wild’s campaigns to make sure that beauty is preserved for future generations.
Amy Bearman is Washington Wild’s TIPS (Teens in Public Service) summer intern. She will begin her freshman year at Stanford University next year. Hailing from Sammamish, Amy enjoys hiking, gymnastics, and Washington Wild’s office dogs.