How a photographer works from the air

In today’s newsletter, photographing Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s judicial collars; Lynsey Addario on California wildfires; capturing a peaceful boom during a pandemic.

This article is an adaptation of our weekly Photography newsletter that was originally sent out on September 4, 2021. Want this in your inbox? Sign up here.

By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

As Hurricane Ida bore down on New Orleans last weekend, we called NOLA-based photographer and Nat Geo Explorer Ben Depp to lend his eye and experience to the scene.

Ben has documented coastal erosion in Louisiana for years—and his work serves as a memorial to this vanishing land. “I can see his affection for the wetlands and coastline,” writes his photo editor Todd James. “It is his coastline.”

“I fell in love with this landscape,” Ben said. “I’ve spent hundreds of hours flying, just looking around.”

Indeed, his pictures, whether on the ground or from the air (above, post-hurricane, from Plaquemines Parish), suggest that he has studied every inch of the coast—in misty morning light, or in the long, warm rays of the setting sun. Ben will drive or he’ll sail his 18-foot wooden sailboat to a remote part of the coast, camp overnight, and just before sunrise, run down the beach and launch his paraglider into the air. (Below, algae in wetlands near Montegut, in 2016; farther down, a marsh with saltwater grasses and lines from oil pipelines in 2015, also in Plaquemines.)

“Taking time in nature and slowing down helps me see more clearly,” writes Ben. His best photographs are like poems—suggestive, eloquent yet full of meaning because he knows this vanishing coastline is home to wildlife and people who depend on it. (Below, surging water levels have swamped once-healthy wetlands and shrank a coastal marsh, leaving Isle de Jean Charles in Terrebonne Parish surrounded by open water.)

In Port-au-Prince when the 2010 earthquake happened, Ben stayed in Haiti another three years. Seeing first-hand how much human suffering is caused by environmental degradation pushed him to turn his attention to environmental stories.

And now, he calls the fragile landscape of New Orleans home.

I asked if there was anything else he wanted to share: “When working I’m able to focus on images—the light and composition—and not think very much,” he wrote. “But this question made me cry.”

Why? “There are so many people in desperate need here right now. Thousands and thousands of families have lost their homes and literally have nothing to go back to. Wherever you are you can donate, you can volunteer, host evacuees.”

Mangled: Port Fourchon after Hurricane Ida, Lafourche Parish, Louisiana.

Aground: A public ferry on the levee in New Orleans’ Holy Cross neighborhood. Boats, ships, and barges across South Louisiana were unmoored by Ida and many washed onto high ground.

Last link to land: The elevated section of Highway 1 outside of the levee, after Ida. Highway 1 is the only road to Port Fourchon and Grand Isle.

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TODAY IN A MINUTE

The job comes first: Photographer Lynsey Addario missed an important family member’s 85th birthday. The longtime war photographer also was often out of pocket when a place she frequently covered, Afghanistan, was crumbling. Lynsey was on assignment for Nat Geo at a different catastrophe, the giant Caldor fire that is raging over parts of northern California near Lake Tahoe. (Above, her image of a firefighter guarding a propane tank after a fire engulfed the lodge of the Sierra at Tahoe ski resort.) See more of Lynsey’s work here.

Coco de mer: The world’s biggest known seed, it can weigh as much as 50 pounds and be three feet in circumference. The seed, from palms in the Seychelles, is one of 100 seeds and fruits photographed by Levon Biss for an exhibition on their beauty and importance, CNN reports.

Circles, from space: Are they vinyl records? A Pac-Man invasion? These images of different colored circles, captured from the International Space Station, actually are crop circles of different plants on Earth, PetaPixel reports. See the photos.

THE BIG TAKEAWAY

‘It’s not sacrifice, it’s family’: For Elinor Carucci, prep time was essential to her plans of methodically photographing the distinctive collars that Ruth Bader Ginsburg wore to the Supreme Court. Then she saw the collar (pictured above) embroidered with the words of RBG’s loving husband, Marty. The photographer thought of the many facets of the justice’s identity: wife, mother, daughter of immigrants, second woman on the high court. Suddenly, tears flowed, she told Natasha Daly in the September issue of National Geographic. Balancing disparate roles, Elinor notes, “is something so many of us women struggle with.”

SEE THE PHOTOS 

IN A FEW WORDS

INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY

Gardening for sanity: In nations like the Philippines, the pandemic caused economic hardship and broke down infrastructure. It also prompted people in urban centers to turn back to the land, using plants for therapy, food security, and livelihood. Nat Geo Explorer Hannah Reyes Morales photographed Jay Ann in the doorway of her Manila home, by the garden she has grown during the pandemic. The plants have been a source of happiness and beauty for her—even during times of hunger, she said.

Related: The calming power of nature in a pandemic

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard and Monica Williams, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Amanda Williams-Bryant, Rita Spinks, Alec Egamov, and Jeremy Brandt-Vorel also contributed this week. Have an idea, a link, or a story to share? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com. Thanks for reading!

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