Antarctica XXI Grant
An Antarctica Exploration for a Creative Photographer
Benjamin Olson - Minnesota, USA
Antarctica is the poster child for climate change, breathtaking landscape and unimaginable wildlife. Advocates for this imperiled ecosystem range wide and far, but I am a believer in strength in numbers. This opportunity allows me to continue my conservation journalism and provides a glimpse into a radically changing world. My proposed theme for the Antarctica XXI Grant is “Melting.” I will focus on the impacts of melting ice and how that shapes the landscape, wildlife, ecotourism and research.
When I first began pursuing nature photography in high school, a little over a decade ago, I thought having the ability to take good pictures would be enough to succeed in this industry, but I was wrong. While pursuing my bachelors degree in biology I realized the importance of science and conservation. It was at the age of 26, after receiving a college scholarship through the North American Nature Photography Association in 2013 that I switched my focus to conservation photojournalism. The importance of storytelling and the ability to produce bodies of work that say something without narrative has the possibility to facilitate change.
Today, I am a full-time conservation photographer specializing in documenting ecosystems and the impacts of climate change on endemic species while illustrating cultural and scientific significance. I split my time in the field between pursuing illusive wildlife and fleeting light, while working directly with biologists, local communities, non-profits and NGO’s. In my work with various partners, I help develop stories that can benefit their cause while publishing articles in conservation outlets to help raise awareness of conservation issues and the organizations/people devoting their lives to make a difference. I currently have partnerships with Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, The Crane Trust, and Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. My work has been published/exhibited in Nature’s Best Photography Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, The Mother Nature Network, The Conservation Volunteer and many others.
My main project revolves Minnesota’s northeastern corner, known as the Arrowhead Region. It is dominated by one ecosystem, the boreal forest. Covering 3.9 million acres, including more than 445,000 acres of water, this area is covered by dense forests, freckled with lakes and veined by rivers and streams. It is a living, breathing entity-feeding water into Lake Superior, Lake Winnipeg, and Hudson Bay. It is also a major hotspot for observing the effects of climate change. There are three major components to this story: natural history, climate change, and socioeconomic interest. The Arrowhead Region is wild Minnesota, it includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), which draws visitors from across the world and is Minnesota’s most popular wilderness area. This ecosystem is the definition of “North”: majestic pines, pristine lakes, the call of the loon, the howl of the wolf and occasional glimpses of the iconic moose. As a result of climate change, this ecosystem stands to disappear and shift more than 300 miles northeast.
My second project revolves around the conservation success of The Crane Trust in Nebraska. They own 10,000 acres along the Platte River, which is a crucial migratory stop for Sandhill Cranes. More than 400,000 birds use this watershed to rest and feed before heading north into Canada to breed each spring. Without organizations like The Crane Trust, the banks of the entire Platte River would be dominated by the agriculture industry. The Crane trust offers more than just crane viewing and a resting stop for one of that nation’s largest annual migrations. It offers diverse wildlife, native tallgrass prairie, a greenhouse to cultivate native plants for restoration projects - the list goes on. The Trust continually acquires more land and is actively involved in education and improving local communities. This organization is the embodiment of conservation success and their story needs to be told.
Every time I pursue a new project I learn something new about storytelling, and myself. I find the latter to be the most important because it helps me to evolve as a human being and hone my skills as a storyteller. I 100 percent believe in the power of photography to elicit change. Seven days in the field would allow me to focus on documenting the powerful landscapes of Antarctica, endemic wildlife; all the while communicating the theme of “melting” while using color, shapes, patterns and light to create impactful compositions. I want to document Antarctica on an ecosystem level while portraying human interaction through the crew of Antarctica XXI. I will do this by taking advantage of the best light, incorporating video, aerial and possibly underwater work. The end production will be used in multiple platforms – social media, gallery, web, blog and editorial – to reach a huge audience and tell an impactful and inspiring story.
This grant would give me the opportunity to document a continent before extensive damage is done through climate change. The resulting portfolio from this project will be used to raise funding to continue my project in Antarctica. It would be a blessing to see this changing ecosystem, not only to communicate the issues at hand, but to also use this experience as a catalyst to continue my pursuit of conservation journalism in other ecosystems around the world.