For Carlton Ward Jr., pretty pictures of roseate spoonbills taking flight or giant swallowtail butterflies landing on firebush shrubs just don’t cut it. He wants his images of the great outdoors to express a viewpoint, trigger deeper thinking, influence public opinion, inspire change.
Ward is a founding fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers.
“It’s photography that empowers or enables conservation,” he explains. “It’s usually done in partnership with conservation organizations and in support of a specific conservation objective, such as protecting a landscape or native culture, or inspiring the public to support legislation on behalf of the environment.”
An eighth-generation Floridian, the Clearwater-based photographer has lately turned his lens on the fragmentation of the Sunshine State’s natural habitat by development. That’s part of what inspired him to go on a 100-day, 1,000-mile trek in 2012 through a patchwork of protected or private lands starting in Everglades National Park and ending at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge on the Florida-Georgia border. This Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition spawned an award-winning book, a national PBS documentary and a nonprofit organization aiming to protect and restore connected landscapes to create a viable corridor through the length of the peninsula.
A selection of Ward’s images from the tour are on display through April 15 in FGCU’s Margaret S. Sugden Welcome Center. In January, he embarked on another expedition with a team of biologists, conservationists and National Geographic explorers covering about 1,000 miles spanning central Florida to the Panhandle. Along the way, they will promote the cause of preservation to the public, politicians and private landowners.
“I’m trying to advocate for keeping existing natural and agricultural areas connected as a continuous corridor as we develop the state,” Ward says. “How we develop has great implications on nature. If we chop up the natural infrastructure into 1,000 different pieces separate from one another, nature loses its ability to function on its own.”