Amy Gulick is a professional photographer and a writer with a passion for both nature and its conservation. She is a fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) and she’s published in most major outdoor/conservation magazines, such as Outdoor Photographer, Audubon, Nature’s Best Photography, National Wildlife, and Sierra.
For the past two years, she’s been busy with her latest project: Salmon in the Trees. The project shows her hands on approach, as she spent 5-6 months shooting in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, a year editing, designing, and writing for the book, and a year promoting it through public outreach. It’s the hands on approach that insures her images aren’t just visually stunning, but also powerful tools for conservation.
Somehow, between public speaking tours, Amy found the time to sit down and answer my interview. Here is what she had to say:
13 Questions with Conservation Photography Amy Gulick
1. I’d like to start out with the same question I ask for each interview. Was there an “ah” moment when you realized your life would be tied to a camera instead of a more tangible career. How did it happen?
AG: Before I could read or write, I loved telling stories — orally and by drawing pictures. It’s how humans have communicated for most of our existence on this planet, so I was just doing what came naturally. But as soon as I could hold a camera and figure out what it could do, it became my tool of choice for telling stories. So from a young age, I was fascinated by the power of the camera to communicate. I never lost that fascination, and it’s what motivates me to continue telling stories.
2. You are a founding fellow of iLCP. How did you initially become involved and why?
AG: Virtually all of my photography and writing has always focused on nature in some way — natural history, wildlife, outdoor recreation, etc. The more stories I did, and the more time I spent in nature, the more I saw an urgent need to focus on conservation issues and help others understand their importance. Relatively speaking, there aren’t a lot of photographers actively pursuing these types of stories, so we end up finding each other throughout the course of our work. The iLCP was the natural next stop in uniting us so our work could be used more effectively. I am honored to be part of such a worthy group, and continually inspired by my colleagues.
3. What benefit is there to being an active member of photography organizations like the ILCP?
AG: At the end of the day, conservation is about people. People making conservation happen on the ground. People convincing decision-makers that conservation is important. People documenting issues so other people can learn. The more people you know in conservation, the more likely it is that your photography can achieve positive outcomes. The iLCP is like this amazing spider web of photographers connected to people all over the world doing great conservation work.
4. I was lucky to have Garth Lenz as an instructor shortly after he became a ICLP fellow. A big part of his work is public outreach. You also mentioned that you are in Alaska this summer promoting and showing your “Salmon in the Trees” exhibit. How important is it for photographers to market their own work directly to the public in this manner?
AG: If our photography is going to make a difference, it is crucial that we are speaking to the public and decision-makers. Just having the photographs out there isn’t enough. We have to become spokespersons for the issues, and we’re in a good position to do this because we can show compelling images and use them to tell powerful stories. The real work begins after we make our pictures.
5. Did you self-publish your book (I read it won an award for independent publisher but cannot find more info online)? If you did self-publish, can you tell me about the process, the risk, and the reward of putting your own money on the line?
AG: No, I did not self-publish “Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska’s Tongass Rain Forest,” which has won 3 awards to date: Independent Publisher Book Award (called an “IPPY): Silver Medal for the Environment/Ecology/Nature category; and 2 Nautilus Book Awards: Gold Medal for Small Press Honors and a Silver Medal for Photography/Art. Before I took my first picture for the project, I approached Braided River, the conservation imprint of The Mountaineers Books. I also approached a few conservation organizations working on the Tongass National Forest issue. Together, we all agreed that visual communications tools (a book, exhibit, web site, YouTube, etc.) could help raise awareness about this magnificent part of the world. So I established relationships first with my eventual publisher and the NGOs I’m working with. This is an effective way to ensure that the photographs will be used as effectively as possible. As photographers, we can’t work alone in conservation. Partnerships are essential.
6. Your ”Salmon in the Trees” sends a positive message, something that many iLCP projects do not. What did you enjoy most about focusing on a thriving ecosystem instead of one that has been destroyed or threatened? What was the hardest part?
AG: I very much enjoy delivering a positive, hopeful message that celebrates a place and its people. A positive story gives people a sense of pride and inspires them to want to conserve what they have. While not all of the Tongass is thriving — parts of it have been decimated by industrial-scale clearcut logging, enough is still intact holding the ecological integrity of the whole place together. So there’s hope, and that’s the story I give people. If you can’t give people hope, they’re not going to feel like they can make a difference. The hardest part is convincing local people that there may be a sense of urgency to act when the ecosystem is still intact. The old adage “we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone” rings true.
7. Successful photographers often balance two roles: creative professional and businesswoman. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in both roles?
AG: It’s not enough to create outstanding images. You have to know how to market them, form partnerships, communicate a story, give media interviews, etc.
8. You’ve landed numerous cover shots, won awards, and published a book. Is there one moment that stands out in your memory as a career highlight?
For me, it’s all about the impact that my images have. For my “Salmon in the Trees” project, the best rewards are when people thank me for portraying their beautiful home in the Tongass rain forest and celebrating them and their way of life as an overall part of the ecosystem. Just to be able to tell the story of the incredible Tongass has been a career highlight.
9. How important are awards like the Daniel Housberg Wilderness Image Award or the Voice of the Wild Award to your business? Do they result in more sales and exposure or merely send a confidence boost to your latest project?
AG: For me, these awards are significant because they validate my work as a conservation photographer. While I always strive to make powerful images, how I use the images and to what end is what is most important. The Daniel Housberg Wilderness Image Award and the Voice of the Wild Award are given by conservation organizations whose sole focus is conserving the wild integrity of Alaska. While I’m honored and humbled to receive these awards, I don’t make images with the intent of winning awards. It’s all about conservation.
10. Are you happy with your current work & how do you see it developing in the next 2-5 years?
AG: I’m fortunate to be able to pursue my passion, and I’m grateful to all of my partners who’ve helped make the “Salmon in the Trees” project a viable visual communications campaign. I hope I can continue pursuing these types of projects because it’s what gives my photography and life a purpose.
11. What three people – be it friends, family, photographers, or anyone else – provide your greatest source of inspiration?
AG: My husband is my greatest source of inspiration — the best partner in life I could ever ask for. He’s always willing to listen, share adventures, and do whatever it takes to pursue stories. My colleagues at the iLCP are a constant source of inspiration — working in very difficult conditions to bring back important stories. I think I draw some of my best inspiration from those who came before me and worked so hard to protect what I am able to enjoy today in places like national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, etc. People like Ansel Adams, William Henry Jackson, Stephen Mather, Teddy Roosevelt, and all of the countless others who left an incredible legacy for those who followed them.
12. A few details about time, income, and clients:
A) What percentage of your time is spent on Shooting? Editing? Marketing?
B) What percentage of your income comes from editorial clients? Commercial clients? Stock? Workshops? Other Sources?
C) How many days do you spend on the road each year?
AG: This is a tough question to quantify because I’m project-oriented versus commercially-oriented. For my “Salmon in the Trees” project, I spent a total of 5-6 months in the field shooting pictures, one year editing, writing, designing the book, exhibit, web site, YouTube, etc., and I’ve spent more than a year doing public outreach on the issue.
13. Any final thoughts you’d like to add?
AG: Photograph what you’re passionate about! Passion will take you far.
I need to sent a major thank you to Amy Gulick for answering my questions between two speaking tours. For anyone interested in conservation and environment, check out Amy’s website and her latest book: Salmon in the Trees.