Using art as a vehicle for awareness and mindfulness is our motivation. While we are both educators—a high school science teacher and a college literacy professor—we also see ourselves as conservation photographers who can make a difference in regard to how others think about their environments. We are guided by beauty but also an underlying necessity to make others conscious of the dark side of the magnificence of our world.
During our artist-in-residency at the Barn Arts Collective in Bass Harbor, we worked on a collaborative project entitled Island Environmental: A View of MDI through Photography, Science and Word. Our multi-modal interdisciplinary project brought together a visual awareness of the conservation issues plaguing Mount Desert Island with a creative nod to both science and prose. Our project consisted of six sets of triptychs each containing elements from three different but connected mediums. Each triptych contained a photograph (macro-photograph focused on an environmental/conservation issue on MDI), a science connection (an art form or narrative that focused on the environmental/conservation issue at hand), and the third part, the connection of prose (once again connecting to the photograph and the science piece, but taking the shape of many different mediums—such as slam poetry, a haiku, a page from a play focused on the issue, etc.). While a photograph may convey emotion and recognition, it is the combination of the realization of the impact human actions have on our environment that was the focus of our endeavor. One of our triptychs focused on the mercury levels found on the wings of the juvenile dragonfly on MDI which is measured to gauge the impact of industrialization in middle America. It was paired with a haiku which allowed the juxtaposition of beauty and irony. Another investigated the impact on indigenous plants with the invasion of foreign vegetation such as the lupine and was paired with a chart exposing the aggression species currently present and a creative work, Lupine Squabble. Our goal is to raise awareness of the destructive forces right below the surface of the grandeur of our surroundings.
As educators, we have transferred our passion for our fragile planet into our classrooms in different ways. Last spring, Michele created an environmental chemistry project, asking students to choose a topic that mattered to them, from local to global environmental concerns. The research integrated three components: an original visual (photograph, collage, etc.), a graph or chart related to chemistry data they found, and a written piece, which could include anything from an original poem to an interview to a news story. One student, studying the effects of ocean plastic on wildlife, crocheted sea creatures that she showed caught in plastic nets. Another researched the impact of uranium mining on Native American lands, combining environmental and political issues. A third focused locally on litter and discovered something that surprised him: he visited two parks in our city and noticed that the park in the “nicer” part of town had more trash cans, while the park in the “other” section had only one trash can and lots of litter—a discrepancy he documented with photographs. Last fall, Cheryl created a critical reading module for her college freshman course asking her students to focus on recent research dealing with conservation and environmental issues and integrated the concepts of photographs and prose, telling the stories not told by the dense scientific articles they analyzed. Some of the topics they explored were barrier-island breaches, nitrogen-laden runoff from industry, and the sustainability of biodiversity on uninhabited land. Students were very interested in investigating their own “backyards” and enjoyed the creative side to research projects.
A sense of environmental justice emerged in both of our classes.
Image at top: Lupine & Indigenous Species on MDI (detail,) Photo: Michele Benoit