All photographs by Alejandro Prieto
Part of the ‘Border Wall Project’, 2020 Photo Contest, Nature, Singles, 2nd Prize
Whilst all good photography can evoke a reaction from the viewer, conservation photography can transform this reaction into empathy, awareness, and action – three crucial tools needed for enacting change. This trifecta for change fused with photography's ability to serve as a universal language provide a unique window of opportunity for materialising change.
Over 7,000 species worldwide are considered endangered, with much more extinct in the wild. If we continue to normalise the degradation of our environment, as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species could be extinct by mid-century, with 99% of this risk coming from human activities. But conservation photographers, such as Alejandro Prieto, aim to change this.
Part of the ‘Flamingo Story’ series
Alejandro got into wildlife photography at a young age explaining that 'since [he] was a child, wild animals have always seemed incredible to [him]. Photography was an interesting way to spend more time close to animals, and being close to them made [him] happy. That's how it all started.'
Part of the ‘Flamingo Story’ series
Since then, Alejandro has become a leading conservation photographer and has been recognised on the international stage on numerous occasions. One of his most recent awards was a second-place finish at the prestigious world press photo awards in the nature category. But as his work accumulates more and more recognition, it still preserves the same goal - helping conserve the environment.
Part of the ‘Border Wall Project’
Using photography for change
Since the beginning, Alejandro has always strived to use photography in meaningful ways. As Alejandro put it: "Photography is able to spark a conversation around an issue and strike a chord with communities, helping them understand the severity of the issues the environment faces." We asked him to recall one example of how his photography has been able to embody this idea.
"Many years ago, I was working on a project about white pelicans in a little community called Petatan, in Mexico. The pelicans migrate from Canada to spend the winter in this area, but the people in this town were only engaged in fishing and didn't have much respect for the environment nor for these white pelicans. After I published this project in different magazines and newspapers in Mexico, a multitude of tourists began to flock to this community to see these birds, which in turn opened the eyes of the locals to the benefits of sustaining the biodiversity of Petatan. That's when they saw how important it was to protect these pelicans, and that is just one example of how photography can provoke action."
Part of ‘Petatan’ series
However, photography can only act as a catalyst for conservation; it cannot be a substitute for real action. Equipped with the knowledge provided by Alejandro and others, we must utilise it effectively as well as combine our efforts.
Part of the ‘God in Danger’ series
"In addition to photography, more initiatives are needed to protect nature. This is about working collaboratively. It is vital to incorporate locals and encourage them to work together with photographers, scientists, conservationists, governments, etc to maximise the impact we can make."
Alejandro's photography has served as a beacon of inspiration, motivating other like-minded individuals to follow suit and be the voices of change.
"Photography plays a crucial role in helping preserve nature. Most people who live in cities have limited exposure to nature's beauty. My job is to bring nature to them, helping them understand the value behind preserving the environment. We live in a time of increasing globalisation, and the ability to reach millions of people in such a short period of time makes photography a pivotal instrument in the fight to preserve the environment."
Part of the ‘Sea Lion’ series
But while Alejandro’s photography has had profound impacts worldwide, it has also made Alejandro reflect on a personal level.
"The situations I photograph have strongly impacted me in a sentimental way. Although at points I have felt frustrated and angry, it only helps to strengthen and motivate me to push myself harder and see my work pay off."
Sadly, ecological disasters have become a norm, and yet the actions of global leaders remain drastically insufficient. Spurred by this, people like Alejandro take it upon themselves to raise awareness of these issues.
But their efforts only provide the foundations, and we cannot sit idly by if we wish to enact change. Collaboration from all parts of society – individuals, students, communities, corporations, and governments - is the leading force for conservation. Fortunately, Alejandro and others are kickstarting this process, providing people with tangible and powerful experiences, and provoking a reaction while simultaneously invoking an action through the lens of photography.
Co-authored by Matias and Finley, who contributed equally to this work.