Pictures Can Save a Thousand Worlds

by Jeanethe Falvey

Not many can say they’ve been to the Serengeti countless times, much less been there to save it. One of the first photographers chosen for Documerica, Boyd Norton, has dedicated his life to protecting some of our planet’s most incredible places.

If you’ve opened up an outdoors magazine over the last few decades and been taken away by images of Lake Baikal, Siberia (home to the only freshwater seal species), or been inspired to climb the Tetons in Wyoming, his work has reached you. If you ever wondered what it would be like to come across a Komodo dragon in Indonesia, a gorilla in Rwanda, he’s touched you.  If you’ve ever paused, for just a moment, to imagine life as one of the islanders that couldn’t see their fate in time as they ravaged their natural resources on Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile, then you have been a part of it.

What if those places had never been photographed?

What if their struggles to survive had never been shown to a broader public?

What if the beginnings had never been documented, letting the devastating changes occur in silence?

That’s the power of a photograph.

Boyd participated with Documerica from 1972 to 1975, covering the original and forgotten solar energy boom, strip mining in Wyoming, and ranching families in Montana .  Like many whom the project touched, he never let it go. For years, he has tried to bring it back to life to no official avail. I spoke to him recently, and I’ve been working to contain my excitement ever since. There is everything to be gained by once again having his enthusiasm and insight involved. If we pull off a fraction of what we brainstormed, it will help see through the original intent of Documerica, which will be a lasting achievement for all of us.

As Boyd put it, “you get personally involved with these things.  I would love to go back and see 40 years later today.”

I’m so grateful I had a chance to speak with Boyd, although I’m not sure that grateful does it justice. Just like meeting Michael and Chuck, and speaking to David, Gary, Tom, Bill and more to come, I will always carry deeper gratitude that these incredible places, animals, and ecosystems still exist, in part because of their dedication and talent.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.