Photographer helps others eye how people shape the Earth

Eyes on EarthBy Natasha Blakely

Dennis Dimick

Dennis Dimick

Dennis Dimick has worked as a journalist and photographer and with students and schools.

But those achievements pale in comparison to his daughters, he said.

“All the work that I’ve been doing, magazine editing, coming to schools, trying to proselytize on these issues, I think that’s all very good and important,” Dimick said. “But I think the most important thing I’ve ever been able to do is produce two young, active, engaged future citizens of society.”

Dimick, the retired environment editor of National Geographic, recently visited Michigan State University to help produce more. He attended journalism classes as a guest, lectured, critiqued work and participated in a Q&A, all of that as part of his work with Eyes on Earth.

Eyes on Earth was created with Jim Richardson, a man Dimick had worked with at National Geographic for more than 20 years. It’s an educational collaborative. He and Richardson hold workshops,  visit  schools and run master classes, all in the name of teaching and providing resources to potential, interested environmental photographers.

It’s clear that both family and the environment are a big part of Dimick’s life. He spent 35 years with National Geographic, influenced by his childhood growing up on a farm in Oregon and by his parents, who were biologists who taught him to be engaged in the environment. Even  now post National Geographic, he’s stayed involved with environmental issues and with the media community.

“We were trying to figure out, is there something that we can do to sort of inspire a new generation of environmental photographers,” said Dimick, who is a member of the board of the national Society of Environmental Journalists. “Because that’s really the work that we have been doing together, and we believe that based on what we’re seeing as far as environmental trends in climate change, environmental degradation, population growth, all of these issues, extinctions, we thought that it would be valuable to highlight the value of environmental photography. And our goal really is to inspire a new generation of environmental photographers.”

Their focus is university students in communications programs and science students who want to learn communications skills. There are no well-defined programs with a focus on producing narrative documentary photography on environmental issues, Dimick said. That’s the gap he and Richardson hope to fill with Eyes on Earth.

The work of the Farm Security Administration photographers documenting the impacts of the Dust Bowl on people living in that landscape is part of what inspires Dimick to teach. This includes the work of photographers like Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein.

Part of why they make a good case study for what Dimick is teaching students is because environmental issues in general aren’t what Eyes on Earth is targeting, but the way humanity is tied with these environmental issues.

Anthropocene is a word that Dimick uses in his talks and one you’ll find on the Eyes on Earth website. It refers to the idea that what we’re in right now is the Human Age, the idea that the environmental changes happening across the planet are the products of humanity. It is an idea that he circles back to—how human aspiration affects and molds the environment around us.

“I find it a useful framework to focus on for journalism and just thinking about the world we live in today,” Dimick said. “We’ve been looking at things like—look at the algae blooms in the Great Lakes, look at the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico or the Chesapeake Bay, or we’re seeing climate change, we’re seeing rising temperatures. So actually, by reframing the discussion to a discussion about the human age or about the anthropocene, what it does is it helps us understand why we’re seeing stuff like algae bloom, why we’re seeing climate change.”

That framework is what he and Richardson are trying to teach potential environmental photographers to apply to the environment, so they can get a better understanding of the world they are trying to photograph and report on.

“Nearly 50 percent of the terrestrial landscapes on the earth have been transformed, appropriated by humanity for agriculture, urban development, you name it,” Dimick said.

“Common sense tells us it’s not unreasonable to assume that we’re having an impact on the planet.”

Food production, energy usage, changing water sources are all different human impacts on the environment. In that way, reporting on the environment becomes a matter of understanding how humans impact the environment.

Eyes on Earth encourages environmental photographers in other ways too. When Dimick was working at one of his first photography jobs, he met Ethan Hoffman. Hoffman was the first person he met who graduated from a well-accomplished educational structure about photojournalism. That ended up affecting and inspiring Dimick. Through Eyes on Earth, Dimick and Richardson are that for numerous students around the country.

Dimick considers his work a form of activism, particularly if it means raising awareness of ideas that aren’t otherwise discussed.

“I’m certainly not going to be an advocate for destroying the planet,” Dimick said. “But I certainly am interested in being an advocate for informing a new generation of people, of emerging citizens, so they can become more informed citizens and decision makers and policy makers in the future.”

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