Dennis Dimick, recently retired executive editor of environment at National Geographic, stands in the front of Lawrence 115 in a long-sleeved, blue button-down and jeans. On the screen in front of him are projected the words: “Every year by burning fossil fuels, we release a million years of sunshine.” He reads the statement out loud.
I look to my neighbor. I’m stunned. One million years of stored sunshine. Gone?
“It’s important for us to stand up and confront the future,” says Dimick, who was a journalist in residence with the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) April 19-20. “Hope is not a strategy.”
Throughout his public talk, “The Big View: Climate Change in the Human Age,” I find myself leaning forward in my already front-row chair, soaking it all in. Later, during the Q&A, another student asks what I too was wondering: “What can we do to help fix climate change?”
More to the point, how can I, as an aspiring photojournalist, use my skills to make a difference, the way Dimick has?
“How can we help people imagine a vision for a better place? By providing urgency that we need to move in a different direction and giving them a pathway,” Dimick said. “If you want to effect change, you have to be relentless and keep beating the drum. If you have any doubt if it’s good enough, you do it again.”
It wasn’t even the first time that week Dimick’s advice had hit close to home. The day before his April 20 talk, I learned how some of my current projects could improve during a portfolio review with him. It wasn’t long before I began to contemplate how my other projects could be good enough: I should absolutely blur the hectic background of my welder’s workshop; it’s important to be aware of backgrounds when taking a picture. I could definitely redo the portrait I took last week; the light was positioned slightly too high. Next time I shoot a portrait of a bartender, I’ll be more deliberate; every detail matters.
Then, on April 21, I got to see the man in action during a hike at Mt. Pisgah with a small group of students and instructors.
At one point, Dimick stops walking and looks through the archway of backlit Douglas fir trees. Kneeling down, he pulls his fixed camera lens to his face and focuses in on something unknown to the other seven photographers on the hike.
Walking by, I stop and stand behind Dimick, trying to see what he sees. The moment is quiet, save for the soft, irregular clicks of camera shutters, beating like an erratic heart throughout the forest. I am standing still until, in a blink, the moment passes and I too see something no one else notices.
My eyes veer to a fern bush. Its leaves are golden-green from the filtered sunshine. My camera finds its way to my eye as I focus in on a spider near the fern that is mummifying its prey. I snap the shot. Then I look down the dirt path and see my fellow photographers, each in a world of their own yet still conscious of the forest full of opportunities.
The hike itself is a short, slightly-inclined trek. For another 50 minutes, we drift in and out of the world behind our cameras. Some see wide, taking in the whole forest. Others focus on the microcosm of life around them: a black spider, a five-pedaled yellow flower, a slimy banana slug.
Eventually, the quiet is pierced by the occasional joke, warnings to avoid poison oak and frequent questions of Dimick. I am particularly interested in his answer to one question I ask: “As a college-aged photojournalist, how should I be running my Instagram?”
“Well, as a photojournalist, it’s your job to look outward at the world,” he replies, peering through his metal-rimmed glasses.
I consider my Instagram. Almost every picture is of myself.
When we finally arrive at the top of Mt. Pisgah, we are rewarded with a view of the Willamette River running past an old gravel mine. An oddly angled swing dangles from a tree a short distance from where we stand. Taking turns, we sit on the swing’s wooden plank. As I swing wildly from side to side, laughing to the point of almost shrieking, six cameras point and shoot around me from various directions.
Once the allure of the swing has subsided, we sit, talk and climb on a nearby tree. More often than not, a camera is pointed at a photographer, who then points their camera directly back.
Dimick sits on a bench facing away from the group, looking out at the scenery. The view encapsulates the Willamette River. Each side of I-5 is adorned with trees reaching toward the sun-filled sky. Cameras swirl behind, doing as photojournalists do: preserving a moment in time, looking outward.
Story by Whitney Bradshaw ’16, photos by August Frank ’17