The interrelationship between photography and America’s natural environment can be traced back to Solomon N. Carvalho’s daguerreotypes made during John C. Frémont’s fifth expedition crossing the Rocky Mountains in 1853 (only one of his plates is thought to have survived). The expansionist notion of Manifest Destiny, public curiosity, and tall tales about the West stimulated demand for photographic documentation of these wonders by photographers such as Carleton E. Watkins, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, and William Henry Jackson. In Jackson’s case, his large, wet-plate photographs played a role in the establishment of Yellowstone as the country’s first national park by Congress in 1872.
As we become aware of the global consequences of human activities, the role of increasing responsiveness to environmental issues is carried on by groups such as the International League of Conservation Photographers (ilcp.com), whose mission is to further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography.
One member of this consortium is Spanish photographer Daniel Beltrá, who now lives in Seattle, Washington. Although Beltrá began making photographs as a teenager, he studied forestry and biology at university. In 1988, he photographed a Basque terrorist bombing in Madrid, which lead to a job as a photographer at Spanish National Agency EFE. In 1990, he started working with the not-for-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) Greenpeace, becoming one of their leading freelance photographers. He has since documented expeditions to the Amazon, the Arctic, the Southern Oceans, and the Patagonian Ice Fields. In 2010, he spent two months covering the 5-million-barrel oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, I spoke to him about his experiences and the following are edited excerpts.