MARK MADISON: Hi, I'm Mark Madison, and it's June 30th, 2010, and we're doing a live Podcast from the Student Conservation and Climate Congress. It's our second annual gathering at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and today we have one of our speakers who spoke this morning, Peter Essick, who is a photographer, a photojournalist for the last 23 years. He does a lot of stories for National Geographic and other outlets and he's particularly taken some stunning images on global climate change around the world.
So, Peter, thank you so much for joining us here.
PETER ESSICK: Thank you. Nice to be here.
MARK MADISON: And we also have Emily Jenkins, who works at NCTC, who will be joining me in asking Peter a few questions.
And, Peter, we wanted to just ask you first: What made you want to become a photographer?
PETER ESSICK: Well, I took a photo class in high school, and I guess-- it sort of found my passion right away, and I knew that was what I wanted to do. It took me several years after that to figure out to make a living doing it. I ended up going through college and getting a degree in business, but eventually went back to the University of Missouri in photojournalism and was fortunate enough to get a summer internship at National Geographic magazine, and that's sort of how I got my foot in the door at National Geographic. But I found my passion for photography in a high school photo class.
MARK MADISON: That's great. And you're speaking to high school students this week. So hopefully you inspired a few future photojournalists.
PETER ESSICK: Great. I hope so, too.
MARK MADISON: And one of the things you're famous for is your photos of global climate change. How do you visually tell that story as a photographer?
PETER ESSICK: Well, I first started to do research by looking at science and nature articles that were peer-reviewed science papers, and I tried to think of ones that seemed to me to tell a compelling story or had a lot of solid proof that something was changing, and then I had to contact the scientists themselves and see if they were doing some active field work and see if I could work their schedule into my schedule and to go out and-- but that was one of the core principles of that story, was to make sure that all the pictures were accurate and that they had some scientific backing. And then also we had to make sure that there was some visual side to it that could make a compelling picture for National Geographic.
MARK MADISON: Great.
EMILY JENKINS: What was the most interesting adventure that you went on to take pictures?
PETER ESSICK: Well, we like to think the most interesting is the next story. I've been to about 100 countries now and all 50 states, and so it's sometimes hard to-- hard to remember them all sometimes and to sometimes choose, but I loved the story down in Patagonia. I think for a landscape photographer, that's almost like heaven. You have dramatic lighting, dramatic mountains, weather, glaciers, forests.
I did a story in Finland in the winter, and that was a very great experience for me visually just to see sort of the frozen north land.
So it's hard for me to pick one place. Often people think that the fjord lands, Norway, Patagonia, southeast coast of Alaska are the most beautiful areas of the world. So I tend to agree with that from a landscape perspective.
EMILY JENKINS: That's awesome. You have such beautiful pictures, especially of the Glacier National Park. Those are awesome.
PETER ESSICK: Thank you.
EMILY JENKINS: How do you hope to inspire the Student Climate and Conservation Congress kids?
PETER ESSICK: Well, I guess if there was one message, it would be just to follow their passion, whatever they're passionate about. I've found that the artists that I admire most are those that if you're passionate about grizzly bears and really want to tell the world what a great animal that is, you'll probably-- either with your writing or your photography, you'll do well. And if it's photography, photography is a difficult field now, print journalism is difficult, but I still try not to discourage people from getting into it. There are ways to get around that and find new outlets for it. But I think you have to first find the area that you really are passionate about.
MARK MADISON: You seem particularly passionate about climate change and conservation. Were there other influences that made you interested in the environment?
PETER ESSICK: Well, it started with my father. He was a science teacher, and he was also an outdoorsman. He liked to go backpacking and hiking and skiing. So he was my first influence, definitely, with the love of the outdoors.
I think since I've become a father myself I've gotten really interested in some of the environmental issues. The great environmentalist David Brower had a quote that said that, "Environmentalists sometimes don't make the best neighbors, but they make great ancestors." So I like to think that my photos will, you know, help make the world better for him now as far as-- when you start thinking about climate, I think a lot of the
problems, the potential problems, are going to come up in his lifetime and maybe even in his children's lifetime. So, trying to look ahead to that as far as-- and that's, I guess, having-- becoming a father has made me more aware of that.
MARK MADISON: That's great.
Your photos have appeared on the National Geographic cover story on global warming and "An Inconvenient Truth," and an audio Podcast really doesn't do them justice. Is there a web site or something where people could go if they wanted to learn more about you or your photos?
PETER ESSICK: There is the National Geographic, on their web site they have a contributors-- I do have some of my photos, it's called rayoflightphotographs.com. My wife and I have a web site where we sell posters and note cards of some of my landscape photos. So you can look at the landscape photos there.
MARK MADISON: Well, Peter, thank you so much for coming to the second annual Sc3 Conference. The students obviously loved it, and they swarmed you afterwards with a lot of questions. I think it was very inspirational, and I appreciate your time to do this quick audio Podcast, and I want to thank all of you who took the time to listen to this Podcast.
PETER ESSICK: Great. Thank you very much. Nice to be here.
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