Welcome! Happy Earth Day, 2016!
What is Climate Photography?
First, allow me to introduce myself. I am Joshua Ruschhaupt, born in Fresno, Calif., where my father’s side of the family hails with a long history there – one account puts my family as owning the first automobile in Fresno, for example. Nearby, in Yosemite National Park, my parents met and married in the famous little Yosemite Valley church across from Yosemite Falls. They work in the Park to this day, though are nearing retirement. Being raised in and around Yosemite National Park was a privilege for me, though I didn’t know it in my early years. I couldn’t wait to leave California altogether, having chosen Colorado as my adopted state at the time. I currently live in the foothills near Golden, Colo.
I moved to Colorado for the same reason many people do — I love skiing, and have ever since my Yosemite-area schools used skiing at Badger Pass Ski Resort, California’s oldest, as a P.E. half-day, one day per week requirement. El Portal, Yosemite Valley, and Wawona Elementary Schools all bus their students to Badger Pass, and I’ve attended them all at various times in my upbringing. I’ve lived in all of those locales, as well as Yosemite West, Fish Camp, and Mariposa (grades 8-12).
In all that time there, my surrounding environment was always a component of my thoughts. Where could I explore next? I’d think, “Oh! See that gully near Glacier Point? There’s ski tracks coming down it! I’m going to ski that someday.” I’d say the same for any apparently ski-able gully, couloir, or slope. Le Conte Gully (next to Glacier Point), or Phantom Gully (across from El Capitan) were among my most memorable achievements in my “extreme skiing” pursuits. So I wanted nothing more than to move to a world-famous ski resort right out of high school. And did in Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado.
Colorado has incredible mountains, which I have and will always admire. Reviewing maps of the world in 7th grade (Yosemite Valley’s school), as well as old National Geographic magazines, I’d day-dream about places in the world I’d like to visit or live (it’s a sheltered life in “the ditch,” and my parents weren’t much for travelling). Living in the Sierras was high elevation for California, and my school being at an elevation of about 4,400 feet was “nice,” but what might it be like to live in a state like Colorado where, according to relief maps, showed the entire state was over 5,000 feet high in elevation! And that was just its state boundary shoulders… everything rises UP from there! An entire mountain range reaching over 50 times into the 14,000 feet level… I was engulfed with the possibilities. And fell in love with it, especially when I visited and eventually moved here.
When I finally had the opportunity to attend college, I decided that I’d study the environment. The largest influences in my decision were where I grew up – Yosemite, people’s/society’s appreciation for special places and protecting great things in the world (like John Muir and Ansel Adams), and my own observations about what we’re doing to the planet and the rate at which we’re doing those myriad things. At the time, I knew the vague principles of environmentalism, but I wanted to dive deep into environmental studies.
I graduated with a Geography degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, while also being the staff leader of a wildlife student organization for most of those years. Later, I would work for Sierra Club at their headquarters in San Francisco as the assistant to the Board of Directors, and eventually would run their Colorado Chapter as its director for about five years, my most recent position.
So that’s a bit about who I am in a nutshell. I am a professional environmentalist, or environmental advocate, if you prefer. I’ve worked on many environmental issues in my career, but the most pressing issue to my mind is climate change. That oldest California ski resort, Badger Pass, has never had so much trouble opening, and staying open through the winter, as the past few years, due to lack of snow. Yosemite National Park’s climate has changed.
Around the time at the beginning of the 20th century that my family in Fresno was busy starting their business, California-Fresno Oil Company, unknowingly contributing to a warming climate, some scientists from Berkeley, led by Joseph Grinnell, were endeavoring to survey and catalog California’s fauna and habitats, not knowing how important their work would become to climate science:
The Grinnell data have been called “a potential gold mine for investigations of species’ responses to climate change, changes in human land use, and other stressors” (Post, E. 2013. Ecology of Climate Change: The Importance of Biotic Interactions. Princeton University Press).
–The Grinnell Resurvey Project website, accessed 4/22/2016.
So, as a child of Yosemite, and of the family I have, in an era that was and in many ways still is coming to terms with it’s own fragility due to environmental degradation, I was drawn to this nexus. And I’ve recently confirmed that some in my family still hold that although the climate may be changing, that humans have very little or nothing to do with it (and further believe that terms like “global warming” and “climate change” are simply evolving marketing schemes by environmentalists). I’m a bit of a black-sheep among some family members, or the country mouse to their city sensibilities. I defer to Neil deGrasse Tyson-esque quotes (see below) when such familial impasses occur.
What is “Climate Photography,” if the climate is this big, abstract, multi-decadal, global environmental condition? How does one even photograph that?
If you don’t start by thinking to ask those questions right away, then you probably think of images or video of calving glaciers, polar bears, or coal-fired power plant smokestacks. Or worse, you might think of one of the oft-cited phrases of “believing in climate change” or global warming, or whatever.
-Twitter, accessed 4/22/2016.
Gary Braasch, who recently died in Australia while in pursuit of photos of the unprecedented Great Barrier Reef bleaching event, is an excellent example of photographing climate change. This is what Climate Photography is about:
Scientists, activists and journalists lauded Braasch’s work in statements on Monday.
“One of the greatest challenges in communicating climate change — a phenomenon that happens slowly, over decades — is finding that visual image, that striking picture we can look at and say, ‘Wow! I see what you’re talking about now!'” said Texas Tech University climate researcher Katharine Hayhoe, in a Facebook post.
-From Mashable, accessed 4/22/2016.
This website and blog is my effort to honor those who came before me, like John Muir, Ansel Adams, Joseph Grinnell, Gary Braasch, and others, who aren’t afraid of a little adventure to find evidence to support a strong argument for protecting this planet… from ourselves.
There are two primary areas that I will tend to photograph and blog about: climate-related problems and solutions.
With problems, we don’t always see how we’re creating climate change. But climate change influences come from an unimaginable number of sources, small and large, and I’m planning to photograph a diversity of unexpected, as well as obvious, examples. These topics will be a continuing series called “This is Climate Change.”
Solutions to climate change are already here. And they’re multiplying every day. The stories about what we can and are doing individually and as a society are going to be part of a series called “Signs of Climate Progress.”
There will also be a continuance of my works of personal interest, which are already represented on my website, www.climatephotography.com. This blog, however, will likely focus more on topics of climate change, and there will be references to photo galleries on my website in addition to any I provide here.
I can’t make any promises about the frequency of my blogging efforts, but this will always be something I’m working on in the background if I’m not fully focused on it in my day to day work.
So, welcome to Climate Photography, and visit often to see my latest work!