The Power of Photography: Connection and Conservation

Yosemite Valley – 1866. Photo by Carleton Watkins
Yosemite Valley – 1866. Photo by Carleton Watkins

For almost a hundred years, Save the Redwoods League has been protecting and restoring redwood forests and enabling people to connect with their peace and beauty.

Photographers and painters began connecting people to redwoods decades earlier, beginning with Carleton Watkins’ giant sequoia photographs from the 1850s. At the height of the Civil War, these photos helped inspire President Lincoln and the U.S. Congress to protect Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove, in part as an antidote to the war’s horrors.

Since then, generations of photographers, artists and filmmakers have inspired redwoods conservation, and their work has had an especially profound impact for people who aren’t able to visit the redwoods in person.

As most casual photographers know from experience, it’s virtually impossible to capture the size and scope of redwoods and giant sequoias with a camera — which makes the work of those who have, even more remarkable.

Yesterday, I had the great fortune of visiting the California Historical Society’s Yosemite and Mariposa Grove exhibition. (If you’re in downtown San Francisco between now and January 2015, I highly recommend stopping by the small gallery space and checking it out.)  Like President Lincoln and many others before me, I was particularly moved by Watkins’ photographs of the sequoias.  A great photograph can transport you to a different time and place, and that’s exactly what these did for me.

Watkins’ photos are famous for connecting people with places they may never experience firsthand, and for inspiring profound change—his images led to the protection of Yosemite and Mariposa, and ultimately to the National Parks System that has been called “America’s best idea.”

Ansel Adams’ photographs helped inspire conservation, too. Some notable photographers gifted at capturing the grandeur of redwoods include Adams, George Fiske and Michael Nichols. Check out their work, and remember to visit the Yosemite: A Storied Landscape exhibit at 678 Mission Street in San Francisco.

Love redwoods photography? Be sure to take a look at our past photo contest winners.

About the author

Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has protected and restored redwood forests and connected people with their peace and beauty so these wonders of the natural world flourish.

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