Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Alaskan Summer Assignment

I am currently in Dillingham, Alaska on my way to King Salmon, Alaska. I'll be on assignment until early August for one of my conservation NGO clients. The assignment is a long one but its going to be fascinating. We are photographing the Bristol Bay Salmon fishery, the largest wild salmon resource in the world and all of the fishermen and processors who fish up here. Like the salmon many of these folks migrate each summer from various places around the USA, united in one common cause - fish'in for salmon.

However, there is one other common cause which unites many of the fishermen and why I have been commissioned to photograph this particular fishery and thats the proposed Pebble Mine Project. Just like Bristol Bay has the largest salmon resource in the world, Pebble Mine could, potentially, be the largest open pit mine in the world. My client, along with many other organisations, is working hard to prevent this mine from going ahead, not least because it threatens the future viability of the Bristol Bay Salmon fishery.

I'll be writing regularly over the next two months about my time up here so check back for updates and some introductions to interesting characters. In the meantime here is some background reading on the issues if your interested:

1. The Renewable Resources Coalition

2. The Pebble Partnership

3. Journeys Into the Pebble Mine Region

4. Truth About pebble

5. Save Bristol Bay

I have tried to give a balanced overview of attitudes towards the mine, if you take a look at all of these you'll notice that there are very mixed feelings.

More to come.......

Talking with Chefs

I spent last weekend at Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Cooking for Solutions" event. Its three days of culinary indulgence as leading chefs prepare delicious food, wineries from up and down the west coast seduce you with their nectare and all the time surrounded by the magical underwater life of the aquarium. Sounds like a regular session of good old indulgence? Nearly, but there's more.

Cooking for Solutions brings together not only great chefs, foodies and the media but also a powerful assembly of conservationists and environmental scientists. The mission of the gathering is to emphasize that eating food and caring about the environment doesn't mean you have to be a vegetarian, or just eat lentils, far from it. In fact 'food' and 'sustainability' find a harmony that only makes food, real food that is, taste even more delicious and down right wholesome and fulfilling. When a chef is inspired by his or her ingredients' taste as much as by its sustainability, then you know you are in for a veritable extravaganza!

I was sent to the event by one of my NGO clients to video interview two chefs Barton Seaver, Executive Chef and Owner of Hook in Washington, DC and Rick Moonen of RM Seafood in Las Vegas. Both Barton and Rick are dedicated to sourcing and serving the most sustainable seafood they can get their hands on. Both Chefs are passionate about why they choose to serve sustainable seafood and more importantly why they are prepared to go the extra 100 miles to do so. The video interviews are full of inspiring messages and fascinating insights.....I'll be posting some of the footage in the coming weeks.

In the meantime check out these resources if your interested in eating seafood for the environment as much as for taste:

Blue Ocean Institute produces a guide to sustainable seafood. Its packed full of interesting information and will help you make healthier seafood choices, download it here

Blue Ocean also provides a great text messaging service for when your out and about called FISHPHONE. Text 'FISH' and the name of the species your about to eat to 30644 and within seconds you will receive a text message back with information on the species sustainability.

Environmental Defense has a great webpage on seafood contaminants and how much of each species you can safely eat per month, check it out here

Monterey Bay Aquarium
has a great website to search for sustainable seafood options. Its comprehensive and easy to use, take a look here

And for all the culinary creatives Rick Moonen has a new book out this spring called "Fish Without a Doubt: The Cooks Essential Companion". Gourmet Magazine - Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore's book is inspiring, informative, and user-friendly—which is why we made it the first selection of the Gourmet Cookbook Club.

Friday, May 2, 2008

An Alaskan Wedding

I shot a beautiful wedding a few weeks back up in Alaska, about an hour north of Anchorage in Wasila (see slideshow below). It was for some friends of ours, so I was both guest and shooter - a fun position to be in! I don't usually shoot weddings, but this one was a joy to photograph and even more of a joy to be part of. The sense of community and friendship was overwhelming. Brother-in-law tended the bbq and cooked the Alaska King Crab legs and steaks to perfection, whilst the best men shoveled hay onto the ground to soak up any melting snow. A best friend from down the road came a long with the sound system, his guitar and some incredible bear hunting stories - don't eat bear when the salmons running, you'll throw-up hardcore, so I'm told. Mums and dads prepared salads and tended to adventurous children. And a continual stream of people with stories like "I live just down the street by the fallen tree on the right, went ice fishing with Eric [the groom] a few weeks back" or "yeah me an Eric have been working tugboats together for a while now". They are folk that I can only imagine are some of Alaska's finest. In a state where so many of its inhabitants still have to fall back on the 'kindness of strangers' and who depend so intimately upon the close bonds of community it was an experience I shall never forget and a reminder of the 'good life'!

Some technical stuff:
I played around with a great piece of software to make the slide show below called Live Slideshow 3.0 (http://www.liveslideshow.com/) made by Totally Hip. Its an excellent application and both user and photographer friendly.

I don't know about anyone else but I have found trying to make slideshows of photographs hard. Not necessarily the putting together of them but making the image quality even remotely acceptable. Well here is one great solution (http://www.liveslideshow.com/) and its reasonably priced at $69.95, a nice find.

TUNA TIME: Greenpeace & the Conservation Toolbox

Last night I was asked what I thought of Greenpeace. Simple question...? Yeah, simple question one might think, but a complex answer followed and an interesting discussion ensued.

The question is complex, for me however, because my wife and her families livelihood is based upon Alaska Salmon and my mother-in-law was at the Brussels seafood show this year, where an 80 person Greenpeace team caused quite a stir.

© Greenpeace / Philip Reynaers

So what do I think of Greenpeace? I've read a lot of negative press (mainly from fishery, industry based sources) and heard a lot of annoyed comments and frustrated remarks about Greenpeace's action last week. I'd like to raise two points:

1. We mustn't take Greenpeace out of conservation context!
There are many marine conservation organisations, Greenpeace included, who are working to save the oceans and the life that lives under and in it. Together those organisations make up a highly complex and interlinked 'toolbox'. Much like a mechanic can use many tools to solve a problem so too do environmental movements. For example, sometimes the mechanic gets out a mallet and whacks the stuck bolt as hard as hell to get it loose and get it to do what he wants. Other times he gets up close and personal with the stuck bolt and gently caresses it with some WD40 and then carefully selects the right wrench to work the nut on a one to one basis.

Conservation work, in my opinion, is exactly the same. Each conservation organisation has different ways of carrying out its work and reaching its goals. Each organisation represents a different tool in the toolbox or a different strategy for the mechanic. So when Greepeace desides to make a stirr, cause some havoc, gain media attention, annoy people, they aren't just trying to be vocal and draw attention to the cause, there is something deeper and more strategic in play. Greenpeace opens doors, heightens the intensity of dialogues and paves new ground for environmetal conciousness. The void that is left behind them is then open to other environmental groups, ones that will actually sit down and talk with industry and build partnerships to improve, as in this case, global fisheries. The environmental issues that span the globe are diverse and ubiquitous and require a diverse array of environmental groups to deal with them. Each with different strategies to suit the type of problem, the objective - desired outcome, and the locale - its socio-cultural and economic needs. The moment we take Greenpeace out of conservation context we've totally lost the point.

2. Evolving and adapting to environmental consciousness.
Is Greenpeace in tune with the evolving and increasing public environmental consciousness? Thats a question that I would love to discuss with someone. So if anyone finds this posting feel free to chip in.

I go backwards and forwards on this question. Greenpeace's activity serves a truly vital role in conservation by raising the issues and drawing attention to them, without such, many environmental issues would slip under the clamour of international media.

But at what cost? The past five years has seen huge advancements for the environment. Environmental issues now feature daily in mainstream media and discussion. Businesses and industry are slowly waking up to smell the 'bacon' and rightly or wrongly hopping on the band-wagon of 'greenism' (a discussion for another day - The Sustainability of 'Greenism': fashion, fade or paradigm?). The level of environmental awarness or perhaps the level of sophistication with which the average person or company now views environmental issues is increasing. Along with that hightened sense of the environment, our ecological footprint, and our understanding of planet earth comes an increased understanding of what needs to be done to over come these challenges.....and there in lies my point. Is Greenpeace keeping up with this level of understanding? Or by using environmental activist tactics of the 1980's alienating itself from people and industry? And what impact could such alienation have upon its legitimacy as a pioneering and progressive organisation?

I love Greenpeace and the work it has achieved over the years. But survival of the fittest is irrevocably tied to adaptation and evolution.

Who needs wisdom anyways...?

Had my wisdom teeth taken out today, finally. I have had them since I was, well born I suppose, but visible and up to mischief since I was about 19. Seven years later they are out and good riddens to them.

I don't want to get into a rant about the health care system, but I am nothing but amazingly impressed by health care in the US. In England it would have taken about 9 months to have them taken out. Seeing dentists, waiting for referrals, waiting to see a consultant and then waiting for an available slot to have them extracted. All said it took two weeks in the US. It ain't free mind and can be extremely expensive, especially compared to our free but decrepit NHS.

Here's a picture of me wearing a strap-on cheek-chill system I rigged up to keep the doctor happy!