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An Interview with Photographer Austin MANN
Presented by Swarovski Optik
How do you connect to nature on a regular basis?
As a photographer frequently on the move, connecting to nature looks different almost every day. Some days it’s simply walking my dog at sunrise, other days it tackling a big mountain climb on my bicycle and of course, many of my favorite days are spent perched somewhere beautiful waiting hours for the light to fall just right on the landscape.
What I love about nature is that it’s dynamic — the sky above our heads is different between now and now and it’ll never be the same again. I’m often reminded of this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.” No matter where I find myself, whether in the heart of the city or the deep African bush, I know I can glance up at the sky to, at least briefly, reconnect to the natural world around me.
Do you have a good example of how companies, people or organisations are helping to rebuild the bridge and connection between people and nature?
Truthfully, I’m inspired by people all over the world who are doing their part to challenge and enable the human race to steward nature responsibly. As an artist, I’m especially drawn to work of individual filmmakers, musicians, photographers, poets and others who use their craft to beautifully share these important messages.
One organization I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with over the years is Asilia Africa, a luxury safari operator in east Africa. While their core business remains traditional safari experiences in Tanzania, they’re also building research camps designed to facilitate Tanzanian research & conservation efforts. They’re now inviting safari guests into various research initiatives such as tracking and collaring lions to learn more about their movements through ecosystems. This of course is important work for the researchers but also a thrilling and deeply educational experience for the guests.
Is there a conservation story happening right now that you are particularly passionate about?
My wife and I have spent many years working and living in Rwanda and I’ve recently been particularly encouraged by the progress of Akagera National Park, a savannah is eastern Rwanda. The entire ecosystem was essentially wiped out during the genocide in 1994 but thanks to organizations like the Rwanda Development Board and African Parks Network, the park is thriving today. It took years to properly secure the park boundaries and now efforts to reintroduce lion and rhino are underway. Even a short game run through this park can yield viewings of epic biodiversity, something one could hardly dream of just a few short years ago.
Is there someone who inspires you and/or is doing great work in the outdoors space?
My good friend, Babak Tafreshi, is working hard to share about the importance of protecting our night skies from light pollution. As a passionate night sky photographer, I’m always on the hunt for the darkest skies to view and photograph the beauty of the stars overhead but Babak has also taught me about the impact light pollution can have on wildlife, particularly migrating birds.
Research has shown that excessive artificial light at night (ALAN) can attract birds and blind them — disrupting their migratory patterns and sometimes leadering to building collisions and death. One study from Oxford estimates that between 100 million and 1 billion birds die each year from collisions in the United States alone… this was startling to me and I deeply appreciate the research and advocacy from conservationists like Babak. You can find out more about his work and his night sky protection efforts on his website, The World At Night.
Do you have a stand out memory connecting with nature?
I remember the first night when I got prescription glasses as an 8-year-old… I ran outside and looked up at the moon and just couldn’t believe how much smaller it was (because it wasn’t a big blurry blob of light) and also I could actually see the texture of the moon… it was a profound moment where I realized how optical lenses foster our ability to more deeply perceive the beautiful world around us.
Another moment that really stands out is the very first time I ever photographed the aurora borealis in Iceland in 2012. I had dreamed about this for many years and the phenomenon was enshrouded with mystery to me… what will it really look like? how bright will it be and how fast will it move? When I finally did see the beautiful aurora, I was moved to tears out of sheer awe for the beauty we’ve been given in our vast universe.
Field Outrider: Jay Kolsch