Last great places

In so many of these photographs, the natural scenes seem to be giving thanks to the photographers, saying: "Thank you for capturing our spiritual essence and beauty."

To celebrate 50 years of conservation success, The Nature Conservancy sent out 12 noted photographers to interpret some of the ecologically rich and pristine spots that the Conservancy calls the "last great places."

I say "interpret" because the photographers mostly shied away from the documentary tradition normally associated with environmental activism. The result is a stunning collection of images, as diverse as the protected areas they represent.

Certainly William Wegman's insertion of his Weimaraner dogs into the ecologically intact landscape of Maine's Cobscook Bay is the most blatantly conceptual approach. The results, however, are whimsically beautiful.

Hope Sandrow floated with the brisk currents off of Komodo National Park in the Indonesian archipelago. Her wavy, smeary images create colorful, abstract impressions that hint at the teeming richness of the park's aquatic life.

Photography is all about light, and Richard Misrach's use of light with the simple elements of Nevadan desert sand, ocean water, clouds, and sky create rich, tightly composed universes.

Many of the humans that inhabit some of these last great places struggle to survive, as their traditional ways of making a living from the natural resources are threatened. Fazal Sheikh delves into the belief systems and rituals of landless Brazilian subsistence farmers living counter to the law in Grande Sertao Veredas National Park.

Lee Friedlander's dizzying, entangled cottonwoods along the San Pedro River in Arizona serve as metaphor for the complexities of preserving places and the livelihoods of the local inhabitants.

Remarkable images. And remarkable too, the millions of environmentally sensitive acres The Nature Conservancy has preserved for all of us.

John Nordell is a Monitor photographer.

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