Because of a list: Seeing with new eyes.

Because of a list: Seeing with new eyes.

Lists? We at Small World love ‘em. We value the reinforcing effect of writing goals and to-dos. 

But what of writing down what you’ve already done? Any value there?

I found my answer recently when Jim responded to an International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) survey of its fellows. ILCP wanted to know, chapter and verse, what photographers like Jim had done to advance conservation through their work. Jim took the time to answer thoughtfully, then showed me his response. It was a cool read — plus, it opened my eyes to the magic of *after* action lists.

Having watched Jim's career up close for 40+ years, I never thought of Jim as a conservation photographer per se. He does not focus on wildlife, for example. I tell people that Jim is photographer of issues and landscapes. He visually communicates scientific concepts, as well as underlying reasons places look the way they do. As I mentally flip through the 40+ stories Jim has photographed for National Geographic Magazine since 1986, I recall magazine story titles. I remember the 80+ nations in which he worked. I recollect his particular struggles and rewards in each coverage and the era of our family's life in which they came.

Still, Jim’s ILCP list was eye opening, even for a spouse. Maybe especially for a spouse.

His list showed me the incredible range of non-governmental organizations, governments, foundations and local communities with which he has worked. There were international crop diversity trusts, international dark sky advocates, Kansas’ own Nature Conservancy and Scottish preservation groups. What did he do with these groups? Jim absorbed and then photographed the expertise in those entities. Most important, he was able to translate their complexity and ongoing research into visuals in a way that few, if any, others had done before.  

I realize that Jim’s pictures lead powerful lives beyond the pages of National Geographic, yet somehow it was different when seeing the list of the ways his photographs build awareness.  Jim’s work shows the essential role and necessary future of smallholder and women farmers, who grow the majority of the world’s food.  It demonstrates — very literally -- a land’s future by showing the roots and soil on which its people stand. It has helped preserve diverse breeds of agricultural plants that defend against the silent hazards of catastrophic crop failures, which come from a monoculture in which almost every farmer is growing the same seeds and breeds. It helps preserve the ancient cultural heritage of dark night skies — for birds, insects and humans alike. 

Hey, sounds like conservation, doesn’t it?

Perhaps Jim’s work is most pointedly conservation-oriented when he influences the influencers in keynote lectures and presentations. For The Economist, Jim presented an overview of world agriculture for Asian leaders.

For the Aspen Environment Forum and Long Now Foundation, he visually linked soil, food, agriculture and biodiversity as an urgent matter for action.  At the Chilean dark sky preservation conference on the high-altitude Atacama Desert, Jim received the international Dark Sky Defender award.  The group celebrated his innovative ability to show light pollution not visible to the human eye. And on it goes: at the original Chatauqua Festival in New York; Planet Forward workshops for national and international college students in Washington, D.C., and a commencement address to graduate students at Kansas State University, at which he also received an honorary doctorate.

Jim has traveled for more than 20 years in Scotland, and while some of his work has been aimed at the visitor experience there, an equal amount has been conservation oriented, Jim’s relationship with the National Trust for Scotland is an example.

Jim was able to show the result of reforestation in the intensely managed Scottish Highlands, as well as bring millions of eyes to critical seabird nesting grounds on islands that are uninhabited by humans. Also in Scotland, Jim’s work helped make the case for vital puffins and razorbill habitat with the non-profit Shiant Isle Seabird Recovery Project.

So there you have it:  An after-action list yields new eyes. In the gallery we offer a list of National Geographic stories to reflect what Jim does. Now that recitation seems so, well, limited. 

Think we’re gonna fix that.

-Kathy Richardson

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