Nature holds something for everyone, as the 48 photographs on display at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art remind us.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Nature Conservancy, the landscape interpretations by 12 internationally acclaimed photographers recall life and beauty beyond asphalt and concrete.
They remind us of greatness and goodness, not only in the world, but in ourselves. They remind us of our responsibilities as stewards of a rich and varied world.
Annie Leibovitz, Lee Friedlander, Richard Misrach, William Wegman, Karen Halverson and Mary Ellen Mark were among those commissioned for this commemorative reflection. Styles and subject matter vary, but one sentiment prevails — we are made better by nature.
"A lot of people expect ‘National Geographic,’ " said Andy Grundberg, exhibit curator, in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. Grundberg is administrative chairman of the photo department at the Corcoran College of Art and Design.
"This isn’t Ansel Adams," he said. Nor is it a reaction against beauty, the "spoiledby-man-theme" that defines contemporary landscape photography.
Rather, "These photographers each had well-known styles and brought that style to these places," Grundberg said. In many cases the photographers went beyond their known quality and explored new territory.
Terry Evans, for example, known for her North America prairie photography, turned her lens on botanical specimens for the Conservancy project. Celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz did a black-and-white study of Shawangunk Mountains in New York. Bill Christenberry broke out of his cultural reference genre in presenting Alabama’s Cahaba River and Bib County Glades. Lee Friedlander’s work in the Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area explores the diversity of plants growing in the vicinity of the San Pedro River in southeast Arizona. Friedlander is best known for his human portraits.
As well as being important art, the photographs illustrate the diverse life The Nature Conservancy looks to preserve and conserve. Around the world, the Conservancy protects 116 million acres. In Arizona, it has helped to protect more than a million acres.
Patrick Graham, state director of the Conservancy, said while the six nature preserves are important, the organization does a lot of wo rk beyond those properties to sustain diversity. That work has included the use of fire as a management tool as well as public education on strategic natural systems. Some of the Conservancy’s fire management work is being applied to U.S. Forest Service land. An ongoing educational project involves the San Pedro River, where 4 million migratory birds reside each year. Development threatened that important environmental corridor until, more than 20 years ago, the Conservancy stepped in to raise public awareness.
"It is not our goal to have people think a particular way," Graham said. "We don’t take the position of forcing values on others. But we do try to show that it is in their best interest to have functioning natural systems whether those system are about migratory birds or not."
People have a great love of nature. But sometimes we all need to be reminded that the choices we make today are choices our grandchildren will have to live with.
Arizona Nature Conservancy sites
ARAVAIPA CANYON PRESERVE
Where: 50 miles northeast of Tucson; call for directions What to do: Hiking, bird-watching wildlife viewing along Turkey Creek. Overnight accommodations. When to visit: Open daily, year-round Cost: Free Phone: (928) 828-3443
HART PRAIRIE PRESERVE Where: 14 miles northwest of Flagstaff; call for directions What to do: Hiking, bird-watching, wildlife viewing, cross-country skiing. Overnight accommodations. Reservations required. Guided nature walk: 10 a.m. Wednesdays and Sundays, June to mid-October. Call for reservations. When to visit: June through mid-October; cross-country skiing after Jan. 1 Phone: (928) 774-8892
PRESERVE Where: U.S. Highway 60, three miles southeast of Wickenburg. Entrance on the west side of the highway near milepost 114. What to do: Hiking, bird-watching wildlife viewing, nature study. Bookstore. Guided nature walk: 8:30 a.m. the last Saturday of the month. When to visit: Trails open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays. Cost: $5 nonmembers, $3 members, under 16 free. Phone: (928) 684-2772
MULESHOE RANCH COOPERATIVE
MANAGEMENT AREA Where: 30 miles northwest of Willcox. Follow Airport Road north from Willcox for 15 miles to junction just past mailboxes, bear right and continue 14 miles. What to do: Hiking, horseback riding, bird-watching, wildlife viewing, nature study. Overnight accommodations. Guided nature walk: Saturdays, September to May; call for time and reservation. When to visit: Headquarters open Thursdays through Mondays, September through Memorial Day; Friday to Sunday, June through Labor Day. Backcountry open daily, year round. Cost: Free Phone: (520) 212-4295
PATAGONIA-SONOITA CREEK PRESERVE
Where: 60 miles southeast of Tucson near the town of Patagonia What to do: Hiking, bird-watching wildlife viewing Guided nature walk: 9 a.m. Saturdays When to visit: 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays October through March; 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays April through September. Cost: $5 nonmembers, $3 members, free for children 16 and younger Phone: (520) 394-2400
RAMSEY CANYON PRESERVE
Where: 90 miles southeast of Tucson near Sierra Vista. What to do: Hiking, bird-watching, wildlife viewing, nature study. Overnight accommodations. Bookstore. Guided Nature Walk: 9 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, March through October When to visit: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March through October and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. November through February. Open daily. Cost: $5 nonmembers, $3 members, children 16 and younger free Phone: (520) 378-2785