iLCP Photographer of the Month Interview

Paul_Colangelo_iLCP Paul Colangelo is a photographer specializing in environmental issues, wildlife and the crossroads of culture and the natural world. He is a National Geographic grantee and an Associate Fellow of iLCP.

In an interview in advance of his departure to Southwest Oregon to photograph the O&C Lands with our conservation partner the Pew Environment Group, Paul related the following:

What conservation issue are you most concerned with right now and why?

What’s on my mind most is the future of the arctic. As ice recedes with rising temperatures, unlocking the gate for ships and platforms, the arctic has essentially become the New World for resource exploration. Complexities due to remoteness and winter ice make drilling in the arctic much riskier than drilling elsewhere, and the sparse population of the arctic means few local voices to speak on behalf of the wildlife and habitat. It is a troubling situation that will have global consequences, and it is just the beginning.

What do you like best about being in the field?

Experiencing these wild, remote places is the inspiration that drives everything I do. It is difficult to put into words the feeling I get when interacting with wildlife. It is affirmation that we are all on the same spectrum – animals living and relying on this earth.

Being out in the wild can be dangerous at times. Can you tell us about such an experience?

I was working on a project that had me camping on a mountain for two months to photograph a herd of Stone’s sheep. A colleague and I had been hiking all day in freezing rain, and by the time we were returning to camp, it was pitch black, still raining, our headlamps were dead and my partner was near hypothermic. As we descended the hill to camp, we could barely make out that the tents were gone and gear was scattered everywhere. Camp was destroyed either by a windstorm or a grizzly, which might still be there. Creeping up to camp, with my unresponsive partner behind me, unable to see or hear over the wind whether a grizzly was there digging into my food, was the worst experience in the field I’ve had.

What value do you see in an organization like iLCP? And what do you get out of being a member of the iLCP Fellowship?

iLCP amplifies the message of a single photographer to the world stage, giving conservation stories a real chance to achieve concrete change. iLCP also provides the rare opportunity to team up with other photographers to shed light on a conservation issue. Complimenting each other’s style and skillset, sharing perspectives and techniques – it’s not a common occurrence in a typically solitary career.

What makes a great Conservation Photographer?

A passion for a place, species or cause that drives him or her to do whatever it takes to protect it. And of course the ability to make images that stir emotions.

Re-establishing elk populations along BC coast

Last January I was assigned to shoot a team of wildlife biologists relocating Roosevelt elk 250km up the BC coast via barge in an effort to re-establish the blue-listed species in its traditional habitat. The challenge was that there were few opportunities to actually see the elk. Weeks of work baiting elk into corrals couldn't be compromised by my presence, the trapping and releasing would be over in a flash and occur mostly at night, and during transport the elk were held in a truck and not to be disturbed.

To work within these restrictions, I relied heavily on remotely-triggered cameras and camera traps. Running through the steps of the trap and release with the team beforehand, I was able to attach cameras in and around the truck and corral to be triggered during the action via radio. To capture images of the elk entering the baited corrals, I set up camera traps, which are triggered by movement.

This successful program has re-established elk populations in 21 locations in southwestern BC. It was great to share a few days with this dedicated team of biologists.

*composite image to include each elk released

Day 45: Escape Terrain Camera Traps

The plateau is etched with a complex network of sheep trails, many of which follow precipitous routes across cliffs. These are used to escape predators, such as wolves and grizzlies, and to access safe places to bed down for the night. Escape terrain is a critical component of sheep habitat – a herd will settle with poorer forage if needed to ensure adequate access to cliffs. In an attempt to capture the importance of this terrain, I rappelled the cliffs to install camera traps along these trails.

Day 33: She Said Yes!

I fell madly in love with Rachael in three days. And it didn’t take long to know that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. So when Rachael traveled north for a short visit, we hiked to a peak on Todagin and I asked if she would marry me. I love you, Rachael. Thank you for making me too happy for words! Camera-trapped proposal pics:

Day 27: Mike Fay

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay walked up Todagin Mountain to witness this threatened landscape the same way he has witnessed so many others: one sandaled foot in front of the other. It is inspiring to sit on this plateau and talk with the man who spent 455 days walking 3,200 miles across Africa and helped create 13 National Parks in Gabon. His new work looking at the wave of resource extraction developments sweeping across northern BC is shocking. The rate and scale of development is unprecedented. I have partnered with Mike to produce in-depth stories of some of the hotspots in the region he is covering, Todagin being the first.

The cook at a nearby lodge was thrilled to meet Mike. He has had a Fay quote tattooed on his arm for a decade: “There will not be a day for the rest of my life that I do not think of this place. I finally found here what I have been looking for all my life.” - Mike Fay

Day 7: Camera Traps

There are many narrow shoots and trails that are perfect for camera traps. The sheep funnel through these passages as they move from the plateau to the cliffs, which serve as safe bedding areas and escape terrain if they are pursued by predators (mainly wolves and grizzlies). The sheep take their own portraits as they pass the automated camera that detects motion.