Rider’s Lens: Expedition Conservation with Joel Caldwell
Joel Caldwell is an expedition photographer and writer based in New York City. He often uses outdoor adventure to tell conservation stories from around the globe. In this edition of Rider’s Lens, he shares some of his favorite images from the field…
Words and photos by Joel Caldwell (@joelwcaldwell)
I was led to Expedition Photography as a way to fuse my interests in travel and conservation. I traveled a lot in my early twenties but it was a bit aimless, I was getting to know myself more than anything. As I’ve gotten older and developed opinions about the world, I’ve also developed a sense of responsibility—not only to enjoy natural places but also to do what I can to see to their protection. I have found travel with purpose to be far more rewarding, essential to my happiness, and full of opportunities to connect with people around the world over a shared sense of giving-a-damn.
I love telling stories of human change. Over the past three years I’ve been documenting snow leopard conservation in Central Asia and witnessed, first hand, a shift in local perspective. Pamiri people who once viewed the leopard as a threat, nothing more than competition for survival, now view the elusive predator with real reverence, respect, and a sense of pride. Correspondingly, I’ve witnessed people transition from poacher to ranger, protecting the species through the prevention of over-hunting of its prey. In the process, I’ve learned about ecology and the tricky balance of improving conditions for wildlife while also appreciating the challenges faced by people and their desire for a better quality of life.
Traveling by bicycle is the best. The low speed of travel and inherent vulnerability has forced me into unexpected situations, experiences I wouldn’t have were I simply hopping from destination to destination. I often find the in-between places to be the most interesting, the interactions along the way are the most rich. Forced from my comfort zone, I have a much deeper experience. Somehow, the ups and downs of bicycle travel, the suffering, and earning the miles seems to squeeze years into months and months into days. It’s like time travel.
I hope that expedition photography will continue to take me to remote, off-the-beaten-path places and to stories worth telling. I love the contrast of spending time somewhere intensely rural and then returning to the big city. It’s like an ice bath – living within these two extremes helps me better understand the world. I’m currently working on a trip to western Africa, which would be my first time to the continent.
Joel’s Expedition Photography Kit
One body (typically Canon 5D). Two to three lenses (50mm, 24-105, 70-200 if I can handle the weight/space). I always have a camera strapped to my chest using Peak Design’s amazingly durable Capture Clip. Unfortunately, I typically carry the other lens or two on my back.
Alai Valley, Kyrgyzstan, 2016. I was photographing Kyrgyz rangers of the Saidi-Tagnob Conservancy. They train dogs to detect bits of ibex antler, snow leopard pelt, and other animal artifacts to catch poachers and smugglers along the Tajik border. This girl and her brother were sneaking around, shyly watching us work. I love this image because of the contrast of the girl, the dress, and the surroundings. I love her mischievous expression, and the fact that she was trying to slip away while clearly wanting to be photographed.