In this time of great pressure on our public lands, here in the Pines and elsewhere in the country, there is a need to fuel the ethic of conservation in the public conscience. To this end, there are few pursuits that have helped the cause of species and wild lands conservation more than art. From photography to music, painting, sketching, and graphic design, writing and poetry, audio recording or film-making, all of these diverse mediums have the power to convey the need for conservation. In the Pines, we have an abundance of truly talented and inspired artists, both residents of New Jersey and visitors and they will be an important part of this effort, but they are not all we need.
Those who have the desire, but have not started an artistic endeavor are also a critical part of this effort. With social media, you have an audience ready to receive your work and you are probably the best person to truly reach them. The democratization of technology has provided access to tools that were once out of reach for many. The ubiquitous cell-phone has an immense capability to record and express what we experience as visitors and residents of the Pinelands. Adaptable lenses can transform a standard-view cell-phone camera to a perfect tool for capturing the minute detail of a plant, insect, or fungi. If you attach that camera to a spotting scope then you quickly have a focal length and resolution that would cost thousands to achieve in traditional camera technology. Add a microphone and a simple tripod mount and you have created a very capable tool for audio recording or filmmaking. The possibilities are endless.
History has many great examples of art overcoming the simple impulses of commercial utilitarianism. During the 1871 expedition to survey the Yellowstone area by Ferdinand Hayden, photographer William Henry Jackson documented the landscape by the difficult wet-collodion photo process. This process requires near immediate processing in the field but offered the highest level of detail and quality for the time. Together, their images eventually helped convince Congress to preserve Yellowstone as The United State’s first National Park. (Healy, 2009)
“We had to unpack the mule, of course, and distribute the apparatus, set up the tent, get the camera ready and then I’d go into that little tent and cook my plate and prepare it for exposure. And, after development, I pack it away and put it on the mule again. Under such conditions, with two assistants working with me, I’d taken 30 minutes to make a picture.”– William Henry Jackson
The combination of art and activism also had a critical importance for the eventual preservation of the Pinelands. Writer John McPhee published the “The People of the New Jersey Pine Barrens” for the New Yorker in 1967, and later formed it into the legendary book “The Pine Barrens” that posited on page 135 that the Pinelands “are not very likely to be the subject of dramatic decrees or actions of legislation” (McPhee, 1968). A few years later, McPhee joined with photographer Bill Curtsinger to create the January 1974 National Geographic story “The People of the New Jersey Pine Barrens”. These works have been widely credited with inspiring the political movement that established the Pinelands Protection Act. Governor Brendan Byrne stated in the Asbury Park Press on June 22 of 2015 that, “there was a paragraph in that book which said that … things being what they are, it’s going to be impossible to do anything about the Pinelands and I regarded that as a challenge.”
We need you to continue this tradition of artistic expression and to spread the ethic of conservation for the Pinelands. Those who see your work may then be inspired to create art of their own, or come to a Pinelands Commission Meeting, or write their legislature. Art matters and your efforts could make all the difference in keeping the Pines preserved in perpetuity.
Listen to “From the Archives: An Interview with Photographer William Henry Jackson”(1941) recorded on his 98th birthday
Healy, D. (2009, September 13). Early photographer key to park’s preservation. Retrieved February 1, 2016, from http://billingsgazette.com/news/features/magazine/early-photographer-key-to-park-s-preservation/article_0c447f9e-9f35-11de-92cd-001cc4c03286.html
McPhee, J. (1968). The Pine Barrens. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Bates,T.B.(2015,June 22). Is this the end of the New Jersey Pine Barrens? Retrieved February 21, 2016, from http://www.app.com/story/news/investigations/2015/06/22/new-jersey-pinelands-stress/28894731/