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Any photographer of the natural scene is wise to care deeply about the preservation of wilderness, otherwise some day he or she could wake up some bright “magic hour” morning to discover there are no natural places left to photograph. Maybe it will not happen that rapidly, but many who have been exploring the outdoors for decades have already noticed the shrinking of the wilderness and the changing of places that were once somewhat wild.
In today’s society, appearances would have us believe that we have learned to live without nature. However, scientific evidence links much of our society’s dysfunction to lack of contact with the natural world. Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Wallace Stegner wrote the forward and helped compile and edit the first book published for an environmental cause, This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers with photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton. Wallace Stegner was also an advocate for wilderness on many other fronts throughout his writing life. He worked on several books in the groundbreaking Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series and many of the campaigns that defined modern environmentalism. Edward Abbey was Wallace Stegner’s student at Stanford. Here is a quote from Wallace Stegner’s famous letter–statement called The Wilderness Idea excerpted from A Sense of Place by Wallace Stegner:
The wilderness idea has helped form our character and has shaped our history as a people. It has no more to do with recreation than churches have to do with recreation. Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed, if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases, if we drive the few remaining species into zoos, or to extinction, if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country, from the noise, the exhaust, the stinks of human and automotive waste, and so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it.
Without any remaining wilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite life, the brave new world of a completely man-controlled environment. We need wilderness preserved, as much of it as is still left and as many kinds because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in 10 years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly as vacation and rest into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there. Important that it is, simply as idea. The frontier was necessary. For an American, insofar as he is new any different at all, is a civilized man who has renewed himself in the wild.
For a tribute to Philip Hyde’s landscape photography and its role in wilderness preservation see the blog post, “Celebrating Wilderness By William Neill.”
Why do you think we need wilderness? Is it important for landscape photographers to care about wilderness preservation?