A photographic encounter with nature inside and outside a museum helps kids learn to love the land
by Jennifer Hattam
As the camera zooms in on the ripples in a stack of broken Styrofoam, Ariana lights up. "It looks like a waterfall!" she exclaims, her grin matching the smiley-face on her overalls. Students clamor to take turns as "lighting designer" or "framer"--the first uses a slide projector and a piece of cardboard to illuminate or cast shadows on the subject, while the second shoots the picture with a video camera. Others keep their eyes on the television screen that displays the resulting still image, watching photographic imagination in action.
The video activity begins a two-day foray into nature photography for these 20 young students from Ashland, a small, unincorporated community near Oakland, California. After a 45-minute lesson in basic composition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art--including texture; shadows and highlights; and wide, medium, and close-up angles--the group tromps upstairs to view the Ansel Adams at 100 exhibit. While a few kids' attentions wander, most peer intently, crowding around the photographs, pointing out alligator shapes in rocks, faces in plunging cascades, and landscapes that make them feel happy or sad.
For these 8- to 13-year-olds, the outing is a first exposure to landscape art--and a welcome day-trip away from home. "Since Ashland is an unincorporated area, we don't get a lot of the basic services that cities do," explains Sasha Tchir, a community coordinator who works at one of the neighborhood's housing complexes. Crime rates in Ashland are high, and the median household income is 28 percent below the county average.
The SAFE Ashland Neighborhood Organization provides an escape: a "summer fun camp" run by Tchir and others that includes African dance instruction, Spanish class, and trips to baseball games. For the nature-photography excursion, they teamed up with the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings program, which donated cameras for a subsequent dayhike in Oakland's Redwood Regional Park.
"A lot of these kids had never been hiking before, so it was great for them to get a little more conscious of the nature that's around them, even in urban areas," Tchir says.
"I think that being outdoors was really freeing; it brought out the best in them." These goals match those of the Inner City Outings program, which began in 1971 and now takes 15,000 inner-city and physically disabled youth on wilderness trips each year. Volunteers work with schools, rehabilitation centers, and community groups like SAFE Ashland to foster an appreciation for nature and a desire to protect it.
"One of the things the kids really got into was our trash competition: Whoever picked up the most garbage on the hike won a camera," Tchir says. "Even better, when we came back home, they started picking up the trash there."
To learn more about Inner City Outings, visit the Sierra Club's Web site at www.sierraclub.org/ico or call (415) 977-5628.
Maybe it was the episode in which Bobby Brady, second-youngest sibling on the early-'70s sitcom The Brady Bunch, stood up to his dad's boss in order to protect a local park from development. (Protest signs read "Love Is Green," "Mother Nature Is Alive and Living in Woodland Park," "No Concrete Jungles, Please.") Or perhaps it was when the six Brady kids crooned "We Can Make the World a Whole Lot Brighter" ("Birds flyin' high in search of a clear blue sky/While they're choppin' down the trees below them/Come take a stand and help us save the land/Let's go out and try to make it better"). Whatever the inspiration, Mike Lookinland, the real-life Bobby, took to heart the serious environmental messages in the show's famously saccharine scripts. Some 28 years after the series officially ended (the Bradys live on, thanks to syndication and cable), actor-turned-cameraman Lookinland regrouped with his costars on a "celebrity" version of Weakest Link, the popular game show that pits contestants against each other and acerbic host Anne Robinson. Utah-raised Lookinland held his own, winning $10,000 each for the Sierra Club Foundation and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. The Brady left standing at the end was middle-son Peter, played by actor Chris Knight, who--perhaps to make amends for the size of the Brady family--donated his winnings to Zero Population Growth. --Reed McManus
In September, former U.S. senator Gaylord Nelson, who founded Earth Day in 1970, was named the recipient of the Sierra Club's highest honor, the John Muir Award. During his 18 years in Washington, the Wisconsin senator authored bills to preserve the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail and create a national hiking-trails system. Nelson sponsored or cosponsored other important conservation legislation, including the Wilderness Act, the Alaska Lands Act, and the Clean Air Act. Nelson continues to serve as counselor to the Wilderness Society.
The architect of the Clinton administration's landmark roadless protection plan, former chief of the Forest Service Mike Dombeck, received the Club's Edgar Wayburn Award, while reporter Paul Rogers of the San Jose Mercury News garnered the David Brower Award for his investigative series on public-lands grazing titled "Cash Cows." Sixteen-year-old Nathan Wyeth of Chevy Chase, Maryland, received the $2,000 Joseph Barbosa Earth Fund Award, which honors persons under age 30 for their commitment to the environment, for his work as executive director of Montgomery County Student Environmental Activists and as leader of the Sierra Student Coalition's Fair Trade Campaign. The High Desert Committee of the Club's Oregon Chapter was awarded $1,000 from the Barbosa fund as part of a new accolade called the Environmental Alliance Award, for successfully shepherding legislation protecting 900,000 acres of land in southeastern Oregon. Other winners include:
Robin Way (Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography); Michael Stamp (William O. Douglas Award for contributions in environmental law); Michele Perrault (Raymond Sherwin International Award for international conservation); the European Natural Heritage Fund (the EarthCare Award for international work); Jim Watters (William Colby Award for leadership); Jim Dougherty (Walter A. Starr Award for continuing support by a former director); Dr. Andrew Smatko (Francis P. Farquhar Mountaineering Award); Joe Dudek (Oliver Kehrlein Award for service to the Outings program); Greg Casini, Barbara Postles, and Glenn Torbett (Susan E. Miller Award for outstanding service to Club chapters); California/Nevada Desert Committee (One Club Award, for 30 years of conservation-oriented outings); Charles Flowers and Peter Gallagher (Distinguished Achievement Award, for their reports on the destruction of Florida lakebeds in the Seminole Tribune); Rita Alexander, Lesley Blackner, and Shirley Reynolds (Special Achievement Award, for protecting Florida sea turtles); Edie and Jim Harmon, Carolyn Chase, and Rich Johns (Special Service Award, for longtime commitment to conservation); the Rocky Mountain Chapter's Peak & Prairie (Newsletter Award); and the Maryland Chapter's Watershed Radio (Electronic Communication Award). Honorees will be fˆted at the Club's annual awards banquet in San Francisco, which was postponed to February 23 because of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
To join the Sierra Club activist network, write to the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services, 85 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail email@example.com. Members receive a free subscription to the Planet monthly newsletter and Sierra Club Currents, a twice-weekly e-mail update.