A lifelong interest in the environment and photography did more than launch one couple’s relationship. It gave Rob Badger, 73, and Nita Winter, 66, the means to find and inspire environmental collaborators, inspiring them through their awe-inspiring images of nature in the American West – a 30 year labor of love.
They met in a San Francisco photo lab in 1986. “I was waiting for my prints, and my prince showed up,” Winter jokes. Back then, she was a photographer of people. Badger had just quit his job, deciding to be a photographer full-time. A native of rural Massachusetts, Badger was studying aerospace engineering in Los Angeles when his interest in the natural world…blossomed.
“I spent time photographing the diverse and dramatic beauty of my new state, especially California’s different desert ecosystems, containing landscapes and plants completely new and exciting to me,” Badger says. He dropped out, took classes in the natural sciences and later became a photographer for the Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Land by approaching them – and being approached as his specialty grew.
“Learning nature photography changed my life completely”’
“Learning nature photography changed my life completely,’” says Badger. The more he learned how human activities like mining, logging and wastefulness threatened such beautiful places, the more he resolved to use his talents to protect them.
…and a revelation
In 1992, Badger was so moved by the sheer majesty of a superbloom – extraordinary flower blooms in deserts caused by sudden rain – he was photographing in the Antelope Valley in southern California’s Mojave Desert, he called Winter at their Bay Area home to join him. Blown away by the waves of orange poppies and purple flowers, she decided to team up with him, later forsaking her people photography career entirely. But sights like “Monet’s Carpet,” their nickname for a beautiful lavender and yellow landscape an hour north of Los Angeles, were worth it.
Spreading the word
The duo’s outreach efforts to find collaborators and supporters for the environment through their gorgeous images of nature in the West started in earnest – and by accident. While volunteering, the duo met the San Francisco public library programs director who suggested their work become a travelling exhibit. Their exhibit, with educational text on native plants and climate change to accompany their photos, debuted at the library in 2016.
“Rob and I decided to become voices for wildflowers, combining visual and literary storytelling with our love of nature”
The couple then turned it into a book of 190 photographs and 18 essays on nature conservation from a roster of scientists and activists., Beauty and the Beast: California’s Wildflowers and Climate Change, after networking with fellow members at Bay Area Independent Publishers. The pair approached non-profits, and attended a conference about global environmental and social problems, called Bioneers, to round up the essays.
Badger and Winter won the Sierra Club’s 2020 Ansel Adams Conservation Photography award for photographing wildflowers for almost 30 years. Their gorgeous images of nature in the West became a traveling exhibit.
“Rob and I decided to become voices for wildflowers, combining visual and literary storytelling with our love of nature,” says Winter. “Our goal is to help people fall in love with wildflowers and inspire action to save them.” Videos of their Zoom talks are here.
“We are all interconnected, and human activity that changes the climate is the greatest threat to the natural world,” she explains. “We must take action to reverse these threats.” Their weapon: Photography. Nowadays, it’s easy to learn, thanks to great smartphone cameras, and how-tos on Google and YouTube. To mark Earth Day – and beyond – they recommend:
- Joining online groups focused on nature, conservation etc. on Meetup or Facebook, or garden or nature photography clubs, to share ideas and photos.
- National, state and local parks and native plant society chapters organize efforts to plant native species to restore biodiversity and remove invasive species.
- Buy less, re-use more. Re-use paper printed on just one side, consolidate errands to save gas, limit use of plastics, packaging and food waste and flush the toilet with dishwater.
- Become a citizen scientist. Help scientists on research projects by collecting data on plants and animals through websites like Nature’s Notebook and iNaturalist.
- Combine a skill you have to help the environment, from fundraising to community outreach.
Photos by Nita Winter and Rob Badger.