From the photographical angle, it's all about point of view and what an artist is willing to risk to get the right shot. From the human angle, it's about an almost unfathomable creative passion and the causes in whose service artists are willing to put their work.
Combine the two, and you have the striking work now on display at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City. The exhibit, which opened Friday and runs through April 17, 2011, involves the work of five photographers who take as their subject remote and, frequently, dangerous parts of the natural world and who have used the stunning images they capture there to protections of endangered species or natural settings.
One of the highlights of the Annenberg show is a video presentation in which the photographers discuss their work and the hardships and risks endured to make it. Over the next five months, three of them also will deliver public lectures in the Annenberg Space.
In the meantime, their images make for compelling viewing: Clyde Butcher has braved Florida swamps -- teeming with alligators and endangered North American crocodiles -- with a large-format camera he uses to produce black-and-while landscape photos that have earned numerous honors, including an Ansel Adams Conservation Award. The artist shifted from color to black-and-white after his own son's tragic death at the hands of a drunk driver.
Paris Match has called National Geographic's Michael "Nick" Nichols the "Indiana Jones of photography." His nature photos from the remote reaches of the Congo resulted in the creation of several new nature protection areas.
"What I'm really known for is pushing the boundaries to get something you can't see in any other way," he said. "I am trying to show you this hidden world... I want people to see my pictures and say, 'Wow, I've seen that before."
Paul Nicklen learned Arctic survival skills from his Inuit neighbors growing up on Canada's distant Baffin Island. He's made the harsh polar regions his subject ever since, using his photographs to document the effects of global warning on the region and its wildlife.
"To shoot stories no one else is telling, I need to go to places no one else is going," Nicklen said. "To shoot in isolation, you need to be self-sufficient."
For the past 25 years, the husband-and-wife photographer/scientist team of Donna and Stephen O'Meara have shot images of volcanoes around the world. Their hope is that the beautiful but awe inspiring photos will advance the cause of more accurate eruption predictions, helping to save the lives of those who live near volcanoes.
The most recent Indonesian tragedy demonstrates just how urgent that need is. Collecting these photos often has put the O'Meara's at risk themselves. "As long as you survive," Stephen jokes, "it's exciting."
Donna O'Meara will lecture at the Annenberg at 6:30 pm March 10, while Nichols will speak at that same time on December 2 and Butcher on Jan. 13.
"I've always looked at the world artistically," she said. "I just use a paint with camera and use the colors of the lava and the light. It's melding art and science with the photography."