An ambitious project by Image Source photographer Justin Lewis that aims to visualize the diversity of life forms along longitude 70 Degrees West
70 Degrees West is a project by photographer Justin Lewis and writer Michelle Stauffer, documenting from pole-to-pole the life on our planet across this longitude that spans a range of regions and environments. We caught up with him while he was on the road shooting the Sargasso Sea part of the project – this kickstarter movie explains the mission.
Looking through the work on Justin’s site the one thing that immediately strikes even the most causal viewer is what scientists and environmentalists would call ‘bio-diversity’. The range of different worlds, habitats, and inhabitants of our planets that his eye has a feel for.
This image from his portfolio Thule Hunters (Thule is a region of North West Greenland) of an Inuit hunter and his pack of dogs pictures firstly that sense of connectedness between man and animal, but also allows you to see the image from the perspective of both sides – who is holding who? It’s a sense of perspective, a point of view, that subtly recalibrates the relationship of humans and the environment.
What drew you to adventure & travel photography ?
It was my deep love and appreciation for the natural world that drew me to adventure, travel and nature conservation photography. I grew up in the small town of Elk on the northern Californian coast, and spent my childhood outdoors. When I was sixteen, I went on my first solo photo trip to the Fijian islands for two months. The following year I spent three months traveling South East Asia. Both trips were photo projects with a focus on local people and subsistence living. I knew at a young age that merging my love of nature and travel with my passion for photography was the only career I saw for myself.
Who are your clients in your professional work?
Approximately 50% of my clients are travel and underwater, and the other half are food, product and portraiture. On the travel underwater side I do work for Islands Magazine, Caribbean Travel and Life Magazine, Sport Diver Magazine, PADI and Body Glove among others.
My local clients range from The Ritz Carlton, Stanford University to Campari Group, Safeway, Attune Foods, Mighty Leaf tea and 7×7 Magazine.
Any photographers, filmmakers who have inspired your approach to environmental photography?
You describe yourself as a ‘Conservation Photographer’? What is this? Are there any photographic practices that are environmentally friendly?
A ‘conservation photographer’ is an individual who has dedicated his or her life’s work to the love and art of creating images to further environmental and cultural understanding. Although photography may not be environmentally friendly in the literal sense, I see it as a way to capture moments inaccessible to most of the world, and use photography to inspire passion, change and action.
What prompted 70 Degrees West?
The creation of 70 Degrees West project came out of a personal desire to contribute awareness and inspire action in the global community through the art of visual story telling. The long term pole to pole project allows me to focus 100% of my time and energy on specific issues that fall along a single line of longitude. The project hopes to illustrates a pole to pole slice of the many threats and challenges to people and environments around the world.
Each place you visit captures a slice of the wider environmental story, from our selfish, unthinking packaging/waste habits reflected in the Sargasso Sea project to destructive industry/labor practices with a human cost in Peru. Did you ‘narrate’ the journey in terms of these stories?
Our project follows a single line of longitude to capture one story in each unique environment. We initially started by choosing a line of longitude that ran through every major ecosystem on the planet. We choose to narrate each story as they arise in each location, hoping to share relevant and important issues.
It has been continually inspiring to see how connected each of these ecosystems are, as changes in one environment have direct effects on other locations further down the line of longitude.
What kind of camera kit do you bring with you?
The equipment I carry varies depending on where we are, but for the most part I travel with two 5D Mark II bodies, a set of L-series lenses, tripod, and digital support for downloading and backup. For the film aspect of the project I use the same kit but incorporate additional audio equipment, a rail for sliding shots and time lapse, a small jib, and a compact shoulder brace. There is also my underwater kit, a 70lbs pelican case. It’s usually just myself and my partner, Michelle Stauffer, traveling, so the amount of gear we take is always a mission to move around.
What have been the most exciting and surprising images you have taken so far?
Shooting under the ice in Greenland was pretty damn exciting!
As far as specific images, the portraits I made of traditional Inuit hunters out on the sea ice, were both exciting and challenging.
Working around the total lack of communication, except for hand gestures, and the extreme natural elements made for one of the most exhilarating shooting experiences of my life. We traveled together for five days by dog sled, hunting and avoiding deadly gaps in the sea ice.
How anxiety-inducing has the kickstarter process been?
It was surprisingly stressful. We were told up to 70% of your backing comes in the last week, but in our last week we still had thousands of dollars to raise. Our levels of anxiety were through the rough, but sure enough, there was a major surge in donations in the last few days and we ended up exceeding our goal by three thousand dollars.
When do you get back from the Sargasso Sea?
We hope to have the Sargasso Sea phase completed by the end of the summer.
Any unexpected lessons environmentally/photographically so far?
Working with the tiny creatures that live in the free floating Sargassum was a great reminder to slow down and look closely. It seemed the closer we looked into this unique ecosystem, the more diversity of life we found. The ocean is full of many surprises, so I try to always respect her power and capture the beauty at the same time.