Conservation photographer Florian Schulz discusses his new book, The Wild Edge, and how he uses photography to encourage conservation efforts in North America and the Arctic Ocean.
Florian Schulz began photographing nature as a teenager in Lake Constance, Germany. He won his first award at 14, for a haunting image of a fox killed by a car. His latest book, The Wild Edge, focuses on the interdependence of ecosystems along the Pacific Coast, from the warm waters of Baja to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
1. What was your goal when you published The Wild Edge?
I wanted people to think about the interconnectedness of the natural world. Actions we take close to home can affect animals that are far away. We have to think about what’s happening in the Arctic, in the Arctic Ocean, if we still want to watch gray whales swim by the coast of California. In the book, we put maps sideways because we wanted to provoke people to look at the world in a different way. For me, it was telling this story that the world is a web of life, and that we need to look at the bigger picture.
2. What are you working on now?
I’ll continue to work in Baja and Alaska. Western North America is such a huge area and there’s so much to explore and to dedicate time to. I’m working on a film with my brother to help show people unknown areas of the wilderness. I’ve spent two years in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We have the chance to protect it once and for all—right now.
We want to show the public, and politicians, what is really in the Arctic, which has been called a “wasteland.” We have the chance to help, I hope, to protect the Refuge. I think what we’re able to do is bring it to life in ways that people were never able imagine. Think about thousands of geese, tens of thousands of caribou, migrating. We’ve been able to capture that in a breathtaking way.
3. How do you approach taking photos to best communicate your conservation ethic?
Even at 14, I cared about nature already, before I became a professional photographer. I’ve realized how small our world is becoming, how few places left are still truly wild, especially since I’m European. We have castles that are 1,000 years old, but what we have lost in Europe is the kind of untouched nature that still exists in North America.
But things are changing here, too. People think we have unlimited land. I can’t just go to Yellowstone and photograph some wolf. I need to photograph nature in its entirety.
In my work, I incorporate animals as part of the landscape. I tell stories about those animals that were very emblematic of those wild places. I can’t just say, “Oh, I’ll just harvest the beauty here, and then move on to the next spot and the next spot.” It’s more than just the photograph—it’s soaking up the place. Breathing it, feeling it.
4. People flock to places they see in pictures. Do you think about that when you document these places?
Good question: Are we basically loving certain areas to death? If you think about parks like Yellowstone, or Grand Teton, or, now, Denali... maybe. Denali has changed completely from when I first went there. There were very few people and hikers there then. Now the tourism industry has built this enormous flow of people going into the park. Of course, if it’s managed well, I think it’s possible to still maintain the overall integrity of parks. But what the crowding says to me is that we need more of those wild spaces, and they need to be diversified. It shows how people need to be in touch with nature, even if it’s just through a brief visit.
5. How can we foster appreciation for the outdoors in kids?
It’s important that we use this opportunity to educate them about conservation. My wife and I have two little boys, 1 and 4, and our goal is to get them outside as much as possible. The first time you connect with nature may be seeing a moose or wading through a creek with bare feet, or going on a camping trip. It could even be just a dayhike. That will stay with children forever.
This story first appeared on p. 46 of the Day 1 issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily.