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Importance of wildlife conservation – Catherine Opie’s Photographs Glorify Okefenokee Swamp


Conservation Awareness

Importance of wildlife conservation – Catherine Opie’s Photographs Glorify Okefenokee Swamp

CATHERINE OPIE, ‘Untitled #1 (Swamps),’ 2019. Pigment print 40 x 60 inches 101.6 x 152.4 cm. © Catherine Opie, Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul America’s public lands are under attack like they haven’t been since the nation’s modern environmental movement began with the first Earth…

Importance of wildlife conservation – Catherine Opie’s Photographs Glorify Okefenokee Swamp

Importance of wildlife conservation –

Importance of wildlife conservation - CATHERINE OPIE, 'Untitled #1 (Swamps),' 2019.  Pigment print 40 x 60 inches 101.6 x 152.4 cm.

CATHERINE OPIE, ‘Untitled #1 (Swamps),’ 2019. Pigment print 40 x 60 inches 101.6 x 152.4 cm.


© Catherine Opie, Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

America’s public lands are under attack like they haven’t been since the nation’s modern environmental movement began with the first Earth Day in 1970.

A nasty gash being cut through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona for President Donald Trump’s border wall has devastated ecologically pristine habitat and sacred ground to the area’s Indigenous people.

The Department of Homeland Security has waived over 40 federal laws in Arizona and 30 in California to build the wall, including decades-old, bedrock environmental policy passed to protect these unique landscapes such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Solid Waste Disposal Act to name, but a few.

Importance of wildlife conservation - US-MEXICO-BORDER-IMMIGRATION-ENVIRONMENT

A dead cactus is seen on the ground near the United States-Mexico border wall in Organ Pipe National … [+] Park south of Ajo, Arizona, on February 13, 2020. – Construction of US President Donald Trump’s border wall in the area has destroyed many species including the Organ Pipe Cactus. (Photo by SANDY HUFFAKER / AFP) (Photo by SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP via Getty Images)


AFP via Getty Images

Trump’s Department of the Interior has formally opened up more than 1.5 million acres of Alaska’s untouched Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, an unprecedented decision threatening the way of life for Native people there while imperiling tens of millions of animals and birds, exacerbating both the climate and biodiversity crises. Even previous Republican administrations had considered ANWR “off limits” to fossil fuel extraction.

On September 1st, the administration proposed gutting regulations governing oil and gas extraction on National Forest System lands, threatening to strip away authority that for years has given the U.S. Forest Service the ability to safeguard clean air and water, public lands and health across America’s forests.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service approved a timber sale in Wyoming that includes 86,000 acres of clearcuts, one of the largest in state history, and 600 miles of temporary road construction.

Emboldened by the administration’s across the board easing of environmental regulations, private companies have begun encroaching ever closer on America’s natural gems, areas their destructive practices had been previously excluded by law. Uranium mining in the shadow of the Grand Canyon. Sulfide-ore copper mining on the edge of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. Heavy mineral mining a short walk from Georgia’s Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Each an existential threat to one of the nation’s great landscapes. Combined with countless other current governmental and private efforts to squeeze every last penny of profit out of our greatest national inheritance and the greatest inheritance we can leave future generations–our public lands, the vast, wild, open, natural spaces of America–they constitute an unprecedented war on nature.

Importance of wildlife conservation - CATHERINE OPIE, 'Untitled #2 (Swamps),' 2019.  Pigment print 40 x 60 inches 101.6 x 152.4 cm.

CATHERINE OPIE, ‘Untitled #2 (Swamps),’ 2019. Pigment print 40 x 60 inches 101.6 x 152.4 cm.


© Catherine Opie Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

Catherine Opie has taken up the fight to preserve the country’s natural places with her camera, using Okefenokee Swamp as her muse.

“I think photographs help,” Opie told Forbes.com of her work’s potential to open minds about the need to protect the nation’s remaining environmental jewels broadly and swamps specifically. “Visually, if you see something that is really, really beautiful and if you look at the images of the swamps, they don’t look like they should be drained, they’re actually really incredible, pristine places.”

Opie references one of Trump’s most oft-repeated campaign slogans, “drain the swamp,” which also inspires the title of her current exhibition at Lehmann Maupin gallery in New York through September 26, “Rhetorical Landscapes.”

“People automatically have a B-movie role in their head about a swamp and what a swamp represents without realizing the importance of them in terms of biodiversity and being part of the ecosystem and I think it needs to be represented in all different ways for people to understand the whole notion of ‘drain the swamp’ is just rhetoric,” Opie said.

Swamps have rarely benefitted from the positive spotlight Opie currently shines on them. America’s colonial culture has viewed them as dark, scary and pestilential. Sweaty, stinking, dangerous places to be drained, dredged and filled in with concrete and asphalt for roads and malls.

They are not included with the “purple mountains majesty” of “America the Beautiful” or the snow-capped Western peaks, canyons and waterfalls immortalized by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran and Ansel Adams.

“If you think that it’s murky, mucky water that’s not worth (protecting) or using in ridiculous language, then you’re not understanding how incredible nature is,” Opie said.

Opie developed her conservation ethic as a child of the 1960s growing up in Sandusky, Ohio on the banks of Lake Erie when it was one of the most polluted bodies of water in the nation and the nearby Cuyahoga River was so polluted it actually set on fire, making international headlines.

“I would go to the beach constantly and I would ask my mom, ‘why are we digging a hole to bury all the fish, why are all the fish dead,’” she recalls.

Importance of wildlife conservation - CATHERINE OPIE, 'Untitled #6 (Swamps),' 2019.  Pigment print 40 x 60 inches 101.6 x 152.4 cm.

CATHERINE OPIE, ‘Untitled #6 (Swamps),’ 2019. Pigment print 40 x 60 inches 101.6 x 152.4 cm.


© Catherine Opie Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

Her love for swamps came from spending time in Louisiana with her wife, exploring the swamps there. She “discovered” Okefenokee on a part-time teaching assignment in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, looking for a swamp to photograph and wanting to move beyond the state’s iconic Everglades for a fresh aesthetic.

“I got in the car at four in the morning to get that early morning light, but the day that I got there it was pouring rain…but then everything cleared up and the sky became incredible,” Opie remembers.

She spent only two days in the swamp shooting from the front of tour boats.

Opie producing such beautiful images in a matter of hours from areas easily accessible to the general public speaks to Okefenokee’s beauty, but that beauty only scratches the surface of the value of the landscape and necessity of protecting it for myriad ecological reasons including its tremendous biodiversity, groundwater and air purification, carbon sequestration, flood mitigation and wildfire control.

All of that in addition to the joy, recreation and mental health benefits experienced by its hundreds of thousands of annual visitors.

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Perhaps it shouldn’t be “drained” after all.

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