For the last two decades, Atlanta-based environmental photographer Peter Essick has been traveling the world, documenting environmental issues and the vast beauty of Earth. He has been a major contributor to National Geographic magazine, and his most recent book, Our Beautiful, Fragile World, showcases some of the stories Essick photographed for the magazine along with a few of Essick’s personal favorites. Each image is accompanied with commentary by Essick on his research and experience.
Aurora Photos: How did you first become involved with photography, and later with National Geographic?
Peter Essick: I took a high school photography class and fell in love with the medium. I worked for a time in commercial photography in Los Angeles where I grew up. Eventually, I went to the University of Missouri to get a master’s degree in photojournalism. While I was at the school I was selected as a summer intern at National Geographic, so that is how I got my foot in the door.
Aurora Photos: How would you describe your personal relationship with the natural world and does it influence which stories you take on?
Peter Essick: My father introduced me to the outdoors on many trips to places like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Death Valley. My favorite stories for National Geographic have been about natural areas around the world. There is something healing about spending an extended time in nature. However, it has made me realize the importance of photographing environmental issues. These stories are usually more difficult from a personal standpoint, because of problems with access to sites and gaining permission for people to be photographed. However, they can be quite rewarding in the end.
Aurora Photos: In the dedication to your book, you say that you have faith that future generations will, “use the extraordinary tools of technology to change our current direction and renew our connection to the natural world.” That seems like an interesting contradiction, using “tools of technology” to renew our connection with the natural world. How do you see that happening?
Peter Essick: I think it comes down to how we define progress. A lot of technology has been used to destructive ends. However, my hope and belief is that new technologies of communication will make people realize we have to go about things differently in the future. Generations like my 13-year-old son, who have grown up with computers and social media, will have access to the information they need build a better world. Part of that better world will be the implementation of technologies which bring people in closer contact with the natural world.
Aurora Photos: How did you choose which photographs would represent your 25 years worth of work?
Peter Essick: At first I chose one picture from each of the 40 stories I have done for National Geographic. The publisher liked the nature and environmental pictures the best and asked me to focus on those stories. It turned out that 32 of the 40 stories fit into that category. I added a few of my favorites to come up with the 50 photographs in the book. In the end, I choose all the pictures and wrote all the text.
Aurora Photos: What role do you think photographers can play in creating a sustainable Earth?
Since the 1970s we have been using more renewable resources than have been replenished. And we have been burning and mining lots of non-renewable resources. Photojournalists can document this and let the facts speak for themselves. And throughout history, artists have played a role in society of being advocates for personal freedom and a better world. Photographers can show their vision of what a sustainable world would look like.
To see more work by Peter Essick, visit the Aurora Photos website here
To visit Peter’s blog, click here
To order Our Beautiful, Fragile World from Amazon, click here