Posted by: soniahs | October 7, 2010

Humanities and Sustainability Conference

I’ll be presenting a paper at a conference on humanities and sustainability this weekend. The title is: “Using Photography and Flagship Species to Promote Conservation.” Here’s a summary:

The conservation movement has used photography for many different purposes: from showcasing natural beauty to documenting environmental degradation; from connecting people to small, threatened habitats to showing them how large river systems are affected by drought.  This paper focuses on the use of photography to bring public awareness to flagship species: individual species selected to bring attention to larger conservation issues or to gain monetary support.  While conservation philosophies based upon protecting single species are not considered ideal by conservation biologists, there are some positive aspects to such programs.

This paper explores the rhetorical choices made by conservation organizations in the selection of species to photograph as well as the formatting of photos. Photograph uses vary considerably among different conservation groups who have different communication strategies.  The examples presented in this paper will concentrate on a subset of conservation photography, portraiture, which is a very useful tool for single-species-based conservation.  If what we need, as humans, is to have a personal connection to the plants and animals that we want to protect, then photography is a very important art.

Photographs are effective because they mediate between our inner & outer realities, helping us reconcile what is with what we think should be.  For the conservation movement, photography is a multipurpose tool, one that goes beyond dry recitations of statistics about coral reef degradation and listings of species that have disappeared from a forest to tug at the heartstrings.  While photography can be used logically, to document ecological changes, it is most powerful when used to make emotional or ethical arguments.  One of the strengths of the humanities is the ability to elucidate such arguments and shed light on why they are effective.

There will be many photos of cute animals (and plants.) No rabbits, though.


  1. So interesting! I love the way you connect T&T with Biology.


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