What were your favorite and least favorite assignments?
My favorite assignment was the ivory-billed woodpecker story (in the December 2006 issue of National Geographic).
The search for the ivory-billed woodpecker was a pure delight to work on because I’ve been a huge fan of the bird since I was a child. I got to see firsthand where the bird was sighted, with the very people who had seen it. I even got to speak with Nancy Tanner, widow of famed IBW expert James Tanner. Via telephone she described her encounters with the last of the birds back in the early 1940s in the Singer Tract of Louisiana. My photo editor, Susan Welchman, my assistant, Katie Joseph, and I were on the other end. That was just icing on the cake.
In general, I like photographing endangered species, especially the smaller creatures that nobody has ever heard of. Good photographs of rare plants and animals can be used to give them a voice. In some cases, a well timed article can save a species by drawing attention to its plight.
It’s the little things that drive ecosystems, really, and yet they don’t get any attention. There’s a great line by Doug Chadwick: “There’s as much beauty in the beat of a butterfly wing as there is in the howl of a wolf.” I’m paraphrasing here because I’m too lazy to find the exact quote, but you get the point. It’s the little creatures that drive everything, and we’re losing them at an alarming rate.
I think we should show good stewardship to all species, great and small. Clearly the best course of action is to protect entire ecosystems so that individual species don’t get into trouble in the first place.
As for a least favorite story, it’s a tie between Madidi (very physically uncomfortable but it was worth it) and Connecticut (all-around unpleasant.)