Thursday, April 15, 2010

Give a Voice to the Wildlife in Your Community

What is it about human nature that makes us continually seek out the new and unfamiliar? As a species, a common trait that we all seem to share is a longing for the emotional high that comes with a 'puppy-love' of people, places and things. However, as anyone can tell you, the inevitable conclusion to this roller-coaster of passion is a sudden dulling of the senses, when that object of our desire suddenly doesn't look as shiny anymore, and new things must be sought to sustain the level of euphoria that we crave. Our relationship with the natural world is no exception: How often do we find ourselves flitting from one flower of intrigue to another, without ever really tasting the sweet nectar of a deeper relationship built through careful observation and respect?

In his book Photography and the Art of Seeing, photographer Freeman Patterson recounts the story of a friend in South Africa who desperately attempted to grow a patch of dandelions in her garden, all the while trying to subdue the beautiful African daises, which could do nothing but thrive. And yet, here in the U.S. I know of gardeners who treasure these beautiful flowers because they are exotic and different from the local norm. This irony has not been lost on me: I didn't truly appreciate the beauty of my own state of South Carolina until after I returned from my first trip to Western Australia in 2001.

With the smell of eucalyptus and the laughter of kookaburras still ringing fresh in my mind, I recall looking out of my kitchen window at the autumn leaves which seemed so incredibly vibrant after visually digesting weeks of blue grey bush land. At that moment, a fiery male cardinal landed on a nearby shrub and I immediately recognized that its beauty was every bit as striking -if not more so- than the crimson rosellas that I had been drooling over for days during my time in Oz. I began to wonder what other amazing things I might have overlooked as a casualty of a mindset that had led me along in a high-speed pursuit for "bigger and better" things.

It didn't take long for me to recognize that there was a great deal which had in fact I had been missing. As I began to work with local conservation organizations, biologists, and naturalists, the deep diversity of the Southern Appalachians and surrounding landscape generously fed my growing curiosity both day and nig
ht. Whether I was in my backyard or out on a remote trail, I always found something that I hadn't seen before, which in-turn led to something else, and something else again. As I began to share what I had learned with others, another realization also began to materialize: virtually no one that I came in contact with had any knowledge of what was in their own backyards as well. I began to wonder, is this a trend that exists in other parts of the U.S.A., or even the world as a whole?

In attempt to answer this question, and change the perception of the value of close-to-home nature, Meet Your Neighbours was born. It is a concept that I have developed with a long-standing advocate of local wildlife, iLCP Founding Fellow and accomplished conservation photographer Niall Benvie.

Meet Your Neighbours is, in its essence, an environmental education program, which uses beautiful imagery as a vehicle to spread the message that common, local species are amazingly beautiful, are all around you, are in danger of becoming the endangered creatures of tomorrow if they are not recognized and protected today. It is our mission at MYN to offer participants a platform where they can create a dialogue within their own neighborhoods about these wild things and encourage people to get out and see them for themselves. Perhaps more importantly, we hope to press upon viewers that our children need to see and experience nature first-hand so that they might be future champions for conservation.

So photographers, how about it? Are you willing to take a stand for the wildlife in your neck of the woods? Niall and I surely hope so, because your wild neighbors need you to step up and give them a voice. If you are a conservation-minded photographer why not drop us a line at or visit our website at more information.

We are accepting applicants for the first round of submissions until April 30th, 2010.

Clay Bolt is an award-winning natural history photographer whose work has been featured by organizations and publications such as The Nature Conservancy, The National Wildlife Federation, Outdoor Photographer Magazine, Partnership for the Blue Ridge and Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine. His work focuses on environmental issues facing the Southeastern, United States and its amazing diversity of native flora and fauna. He is an Affiliate Council Member of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

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