Arctic Expedition 2014: Visual Storytelling – the power of photography…

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My role on this Students On Ice arctic expedition is one of educator. All of us who will fill that role will also contribute to the success of the expedition in other ways, helping with many aspects of daily activities and logistics. But as educators, our primary role is to deliver outstanding educational workshops and activities for the students.

I will be teaching environmental communication. You’re probably thinking, what the heck is that?  Environmental communication uses tools such as photography and video to inform ands to connect with the general public on environmental issues. Our planet faces a number of significant environmental issues such as climate change, habitat loss, species extinction, pollution (including plastic pollution in our oceans), ocean acidification and the dying-off of coral reefs. These are just some of the major issues facing us today.

Plastic garbage that has made its way into the world oceans is responsible for the death of albatross chicks in a colony on Midway Island.

Plastic garbage that has made its way into the world oceans is responsible for the death of albatross chicks in a colony on Midway Island. Image copyright Shelley L. Ball, 44th Parallel Photography

The problem is that if people don’t feel like their daily lives are affected by these issues, then they don’t believe they exist. It’s just the way the human brain works – it’s that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thing. But no matter where in the world we live, our lives are affected by these things. It’s just that for some things, the impacts are less obvious for some of the world’s population, compared to others. Or we experience the indirect or trickle-down effects of these things rather than the direct impacts, at least for now. Or the impacts happen so far from us (geographically) that we don’t see them and so they don’t get our attention. A good example of this is the melting of the world’s glaciers and the impact this will have on global sea level and other aspects of our environment. If we don’t see it happening in our own neighbourhood, then we tend not to think about it.

This is where environmental communication comes in and specifically, photography and videography. You’ve heard the expression, ‘ a picture is worth a thousand words’?  As humans, we rely on vision to understand the world around us. This is why photographs can have such impact. When we see something with our own eyes, we are more likely to understand it, to believe it, to relate to it. And some images can even evoke strong emotional responses in us. Strong images can make us care.

It’s this emotional response that is important. Without it, people tune out. They forget about things. But have you ever seen a photo that made you cry? I bet the impact of that photo stayed with you for a few days, if not for months or years or even a lifetime. Images have the power to impact us in that way.

The cover of National Geographic's 125th anniversary edition. Their features on The Power Of Photography are a fabulous example of how photography can inform us, connect us, inspire us and motivate us to take action on environmental and social issues.

The cover of National Geographic’s 125th anniversary edition. Their features on The Power Of Photography are a fabulous example of how photography can inform us, connect us, inspire us and motivate us to take action on environmental and social issues.

I believe that visual images can play a huge role in helping us to understand the impacts of our planet’s environmental issues and the urgent need to take action to halt these impacts. For over 125 years, National Geographic has been doing this – using photography to take us to parts of the globe we have never been before (or may never visit) . They inform us about environmental and social issues in places far from us. Their goal is to motivate us to care enough to do something about these issues. And now that we are in the digital age, National Geographic publishes their magazine digitally (for iPad). We no longer just ‘read’ NatGeo magazine, we experience it. This include video clips, 3D animations, and interactive tools to ‘read’ a story. You just need to look at the October 2013 digital edition of National Geographic magazine to understand the impact photography (and video) can have on informing people about global issues, getting them to care, and getting them to take action.

Copyright France Rivet, Polar Horizons. Used with permission.

Copyright France Rivet, Polar Horizons. Used with permission.

This is why I’m teaching environmental communication on this arctic expedition. I think photography and videography are tools that are critical to addressing the planet’s environmental issues. And who better to use these than the younger generation – the one that will spend the bulk of their lives dealing with the environmental issues that currently face our planet. I’ll be teaching them how to shoot photographs with impact. How to shoot and edit video and to produce their own short documentary-style videos. And I hope they will become ambassadors of the environment – visual storytellers for the environment – sharing their experiences and their messages about the arctic – its wildlife, its landscapes, its people and the rapid changes the arctic is experiencing as a result of global climate change. This is why I have named my program, the Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program. I hope that the students will share the stories of their first-hand experiences not just with their family, their friends and their peers. I hope they will share them with the world. I hope my program inspires them to take action on our planet’s environmental issues and that they inspire others to do the same.

Arctic Expedition 2014: our environmental education program


I’m so excited to be one of 46 educators and staff on the 2014 Students On Ice arctic expedition. Those of us who are educators will be delivering educational program to the students during our 12 days aboard the icebreaker, while we explore Labrador and Greenland. We’ll have zodiacs to get ashore so that we can get out onto the land and show the students first hand, the incredible beauty, fragility, and value of the arctic.

In my role as biologist, environmental educator and visual storyteller, I’ll be launching our Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program, teaching photography and videography to students. Specifically, I’ll be teaching the students the tools of environmental communication. They will be learning to use their cameras to capture the beauty of the arctic landscape, ecosystems, culture and history. And then they’ll learn how to assemble their photos and videos to create professional presentations about the arctic environment that they can share with their schools, clubs and the world.

So I’m busy creating a series of educational workshops that I’ll be teaching and still assembling the equipment I need. Busy times! But I can’t wait to get aboard that ship and begin working with the students. I think it’ll be an experience of a lifetime not just for them, but for me too!