Some have spent months in the depths of the Amazon to make sure Indigenous voices reach the mainstream. They’ve gripped their cameras on long boat rides to document a disaster that needs to make headlines. And others have gone to the bottom of a coal mine, combatted polar temperatures, or swam with sharks to capture photos that will help protect our planet.
With a camera in one hand and an eagle eye on the world, documenting this pale blue dot we call home is no easy task. But these photographers are telling the stories of their own communities, breaking the silence about underreported crises, and are determined to compel the world to action through image.
Women are some of the world’s most unwavering defenders of the planet. This applies equally when it comes to bearing witness to destruction and exposing it to the world, or capturing the natural beauty we can’t afford to lose.
Take a look at some of this unmissable environmental photography, captured by accomplished women from around the globe.
Three hundred kilometres east of Karla Gachet’s birthplace in Ecuador, one of the defining conservation stories of our time is unfolding. The discovery of oil reserves under the Yasuni National Park has placed a dollar figure on what is priceless: the significance of the land to local Indigenous groups and an ecosystem that millions of species of plants, birds, insects, and mammals depend on.
Karla’s Yasuni series focuses on the human impact of oil exploration in a largely preserved part of the Amazon and the risk it poses to Indigenous groups. Her photos of the everyday lives of the the Waorani and Kichwa Indigenous groups capture their thoughtful and deliberate use of natural resources and their joy and respect for the land and wildlife as they live in voluntary isolation.
“My motivation is to educate myself and others on issues that affect us all as humans on this planet. The relationship between people and their environment and how we are all connected has always interested me.” – Karla Gachet
Karla’s lens never intrudes as she records day-to-day moments that speak volumes about people across Latin America and their relationships with identity, environment, culture, as well as to each other. It’s no wonder then that her photos have been exhibited around the world, published by the National Geographic Magazine, the Smithsonian, The New York Times, and awarded by World Press Photo and Pictures of the Year International (POYi). See more of Karla’s work on her Instagram.
“In a world where news spreads like wildfire and is consumed like fast-food, it’s increasingly important to engage thoughts and spark debates using arresting imagery and short films.” – Suzanne Lee
Suzanne Lee works with talent and purpose. Her photography and videography focuses on Asia’s most critical humanitarian issues and has been showcased in exhibitions and festivals worldwide, as well as published in The Guardian and Wall Street Journal.
In Minor Miners, a project she’s been working on since 2010, Suzanne exposes the extreme lengths that humanity pushes our most vulnerable in the name of development. The haunting photo series on child labour in Indian coal mines stays with her audience, jerking us alert to the human price of depleting the world’s natural resources. Since 2010, these photos have helped grassroots organisations in India to lobby for change. Check out more of Suzanne’s photography on Facebook and Instagram.
“Our attention seems to have inclined towards responding to natural disasters and in most cases, only when they hit home. Images can become a reminder of our inaction.” – Hilina Abebe
Climate change reaches deeply and dangerously into all parts of the world. Every community is hit in a different way and no one is better placed to tell that unique story than those who experience it
Hilina Abebe is one of the women dedicated to documenting Ethiopia’s expansive and changing political, social, and environmental landscape. Photography runs in her family and she does that legacy proud by using her lens to capture the nuanced stories of poverty, identity, and climate change that define modern-day Ethiopia. In a world open to new perspectives, Hilina is making waves. Her work has been published or recognised by the New York Times, National Geographic, CNN and World Press Photo. You can find more on her Instagram.
Growing up in Alaska and Norway, Acacia Johnson has a special affinity for the coldest corners of the world. She wears many hats – scholar, artist, writer, prolific nature photographer – and uses them all to draw attention to unique human relationships with the earth’s Poles.
For decades it seemed the world had a single idea of who belonged behind the lens in polar photography. Acacia is among a generation of photographers who prove there’s no reason women can’t capture the beauty of the the extreme ends of earth.
“I have witnessed noticeable change in the North within my lifetime. I aim to use my photographs from the Arctic, Antarctica and Alaska to inspire people to care about these remote and misunderstood regions, challenge stereotypes, and advocate for the environmental and social issues currently unfolding there.” – Acacia Johnson
Acacia’s work documenting the breathtaking beauty of the Arctic and Antarctic has been published in the National Geographic, Washington Diplomat, and Examiner. Find Acacia on Instagram here.
Sometimes the world produces natural beauty so intense it seems make-believe. It’s hard to imagine a more potent display of this than the way the Atacama desert in Chile explodes with flowers after intense rain. Often called the driest desert on Earth, the normally dusty slopes of Atacama’s valleys are covered with bright blooms every few years when the rain comes.
Tamara Merino’s deft photography brings this natural wonder into breathtaking focus. In our interconnected world, photography like hers has the power to instantly bring the unique beauty of a local landscape to the global stage.
“Nature is part of our DNA. We all have a strong relationship with the environment that surrounds us, because it shapes the way we inhabit the world and make possible our life on it.” – Tamara Merino
Tamara spends much of her time exploring the very opposite of this dazzling, unrestrained beauty. Her body of work explores the extremes of human isolation, hopelessness, and perseverance with a slow sensitivity that builds real empathy. She’s been published by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, Bloomberg, Washington Post and Der Spiegel and you can find her on Instagram.
Gayatri Ganju is one of the new and unique faces of photography you need to know about. For Gayatri, photographing people and nature are not so different. Humans and the natural world both have stories, and as long as you develop a connection, you’ll unravel the narrative. Gayatri’s photography expertly divulges the stories of her subjects as she weaves together photos that show you exactly how something happened with those you need to interpret for yourself. You can find her on Instagram.
“Stories have always held sacred magic in their ability to transform the way I feel, think and relate to the world around me. I see them as a powerful tool in building dialogue, connecting bodies and shaping change.” – Gayatri Ganju
Ann Wang is determined to bring the world’s underreported problems to our attention. Her commitment shows in this photo series on two oil spills that barely hit the headlines of international press, but left villages in the Peruvian Amazon reeling. After flying across the globe, spending 24 hours on a boat, and hiking for another six, Anne finally reached the remote communities in Nueva Alianza and Saramuro to document their efforts cleaning up the thousands of barrels of oil that flooded into their local river and coated parts of their village.
“I’ve always loved witnessing the beauty of nature with my own eyes. As a photographer, what better way is there to raise awareness about the environment but to document it with my camera? I would very much like to do my part to raise awareness on such issues.” – Ann Wang
Ann is truly a global citizen. She’s lived all over the world – Taiwan, Myanmar, New Zealand, China and the United States – but no matter where she works, she’s determined to tell stories that matter. Her important work has been published by Reuters, the New York Times, TIME, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, and the Huffington Post, among others, and you can also find her on Instagram.
Based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with roots across Europe, North America, and the Middle East, the focus of Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi’s photography mirrors her multicultural background and experiences as a child refugee. Her environmental work is deeply imbued with empathy and consideration for others, challenging the single environmental standard we hold every community to regardless of their wealth, location, or relationship with the land.
“Solutions to environmental degradation and poverty should not be pitted against one another. They are two sides of the same coin. Successful conservation programs involve locals through poverty-reduction initiatives. If given the right incentives, locals will join conservation efforts, and their lives will be improved by it.” – Diana Zeyneb
Diana’s powerful photography has been published by many media outlets, including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, Le Monde, CNN, National Geographic, VICE and Newsweek.
Ellen Cuylaerts has won several awards for her underwater photography, and for good reason. Looking at her work, you feel as if you’re meeting with the assortment of sharks, rays, dolphins, and other marine life she encounters.
The intimacy she creates is deliberate. Ellen is passionate about protecting wildlife and their homes. She knows that by building the connection between humanity and nature, her photography makes this possible. You can see more of her breathtaking photography on Facebook and Instagram.
“The reason I visit remote places is to portray animals in their natural habitat. Let’s protect what we love and be the change we want to see.” – Ellen Cuylaerts
“I have become completely enchanted by the Amazon rainforest and I hope to inspire others to help care for and preserve this great wilderness through my images and storytelling.” – Jessica Suarez
Jessica Suarez uses her skill, study and experience to tell stories that inspire change. One photo at a time, she convinces her audience to support the conservation of the Amazon rainforest. She’s particularly interested in how people and wildlife adapt to our rapidly changing world. Jessica’s work has been featured in the New York Times, and Smithsonian Magazine, among others, and you can also find her on Instagram.
Rashini Suriyaarachchi is a freelance writer based in Kathmandu