Although he’s a lot more recent than many of the other artists we’ve talked about in class, Carlton Ward has many similar objectives to traditional nature photographers such as Ansel Adams.
Ward started out photographing rain forests and deserts in Africa before turning his camera closer to his home of Florida. Despite the Everglades being drastically different from most of the national parks, the same qualities can be seen in how Ward documents the area.
Because it was a new technology, at the time Adams was taking pictures of parks, people assumed that the photo was the absolute truth. In reality, he carefully planned images, such as the one below.
Adams uses the winding river, majestic mountains and quality of light in the clouds to portray a wilderness that is untouched and “sublime.” It is a wilderness worth preserving. Ward creates a similar effect in his photos.
In the Clay Ranch, Putnam County, Ward shows a winding meadow bordered by trees, with no sign of civilization. The way the light filters through the trees and the ethereal clouds make the scene seem magical and otherworldly. Compare that to the usual image conjured when someone says the word “Florida,” and Ward’s unique point of view becomes apparent. He is aiming to show us the beauty of places closer to home, and through that beauty, make them places people are compelled to fight for and preserve, much like Ansel Adams, Carleton Watkins, and their peers.
Looking at Ward’s body of work, the images are usually crisp and saturated with color. They overwhelm the senses. Many show vast landscapes associated with the sublime as well as that indescribable quality of light that can both be seen in the image above. Ward clearly has an agenda, but the beauty of the image cannot be ignored. The places Ward photographs seem exotic and new, and some of their power comes from the truth of their origin. It isn’t some far off land, but in our own nation. The goal of these photos is to show the viewer that this natural space is ours to enjoy, but also ours to protect.
People are attracted to these images and are therefore, knowingly or not, opening themselves up to the idea of conserving these places. As it states on Ward’s website,
Carlton recognizes the power of photographs to influence public perceptions and inspire change … Conservation photography is a window that sheds light on the people, places and issues that demand our collective attention so that together we can ensure the survival of essential natural and cultural legacies.
Despite the time that has passed between Ward’s photos and the beginning of conservation photography or landscape art itself, not only have the same elements been present to some extent but also the intent. In style and content, Ward is using traditional elements of conservation photography to draw attention to and potentially save the wilderness in his own backyard.
You can see more about Ward’s portfolio, biography and conservation efforts at his website.