AJ4D0722The forests of Bahoruco are disappearing at an alarming rate. Meanwhile the Dominican government not only ignores the situation, but indirectly supports it by not punishing government officials involved in the devastation.

This image shows what used to be a healthy primary forest, now wiped out to the limestone, where beans will be farmed illegally by Haitians and Dominicans.

Please help us:

1. You can try to spread the word and pressure the Dominican Governmenthttps://twitter.com/ambienterd

2. You can donate to the leading NGO on the protection of Bahoruco:http://grupojaragua.org.do/apoya.html

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 12.19.47 PMPractice makes perfect. There is no doubt that taking a lot of photographs makes you better photographer. But that does not mean that all you have to do to get better is press the shutter a lot. How I conceive Nature Photography, the intelectual part of it weighs a lot. Both ethically and aesthetically the creative process is filled with decisions that need to be made constantly and spontaneously.

With photography, the creative process is simplified in three parts:

1. Which photographs to take.

2. Which photographs to process.

3. Which photographs to show.

At least in my opinion, each of these steps presents an opportunity for your personality and taste to come trough. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is, and form me, choosing the 45 images that best represent what I am about was hard work.

After months debating and asking for opinions, I finally managed to choose my favourite images among thousands of possibilities. These images are important for me for different reasons:

• They illustrate my aesthetic choices when it comes to photography.

• They successfully tell the narratives that are important to me.

• They show innovative ways to compose the frame.

• They use the light in a creative manner.

I hope you agree and I welcome your feedback:

http://www.mariodavalos.org/favorites

Photo by Maurice Sanchez

Photo by Maurice Sanchez

September 13th, 2014

Old Forge, NY

Hello everyone. Thank you for coming today. It is an honor to be here and  share my work with you. My show is called “Irruption”, but today I would really like to talk to you about connections.

I was trained as a painter.

For about ten years I intensely painted large, abstract paintings. I was taught to observe the world in an abstract manner.. to look beyond the obvious… literally and conceptually.

I almost entirely avoided figurative painting, and exclusively focused on shapes, lines and color; composition of the empty space using paint as paint.. nothing else. For me painting was a very physical act, violent at times and always very visceral. A lot of my paintings were built around the concept of memory and how it is shaped by the passing of time. I have always been obsessed on how we remember events, places and people because I feel memory has to do more with who we are and who we become than the real event, place or person inside the memory. Back then I use to dismiss photography, I use to think of it as a way to cheat memory, a medium too exact, too rigid when it came to altering memories. I was not into photography at all and I avoided it at any costs.

Six years after graduating art school, I woke up and I found my self as a founder and CEO of a advertising agency; things changed. Not because of advertising, but because I did not have time or energy to keep painting. After 12 hour-days in my office, after intense meeting, after several presentations a day, there was no way I was going to lock my self in the studio and paint. I was tired, drained… dazed and confused.

My mom had raised us very close to nature. My first memories are of picking strawberries in the mountains and climbing trees, so to face the new element in my life, stress, I again turned to nature. My wife and I bought a place in the mountains of Jarabacoa and built a small cabin. I started talking walks in the woods, hiking for entire days and I started to feel like my self again. Jarabacoa is still today my happy place. Then one day I had a close encounter with a little elf of the dominican forests: The Broad-billed Tody (Todus subulatus). I could not believe I had been living in this island for all my life and I had never seen this beautiful bird… this amazing little creature, and I knew then, that I wanted to discover more and more. That is how nature photography started for me. I bought my first camera in 2010 and since then I have been balancing running the ad agency with family life with and this uncontrollable and evermore intense passion.

The way I approach photography is very much conditioned by my art training: I think of shapes, light, color, narrative, but at the same time I now know the relevance of photography. I now know the power of an image and I also know, that there is no painting or drawing that can compare to the beauty and magic of mother nature.

I used to MAKE art, now I FIND art… I find it in places, in leaves, in creatures, in dust flying into the light… I find art and I try to discover the best possible way to portray it and put my voice in it. I now see the world, not only in shapes, shades and lines, but also as a constant search for the perfect picture. I am now more aware of the creatures than inhabit this planet and how fascinating and fragile they are. I now try to make nature my own without physically doing so.

There are some nature photographers who approach this craft from a scientific place. They try to document species and behaviours, they try to collect, photographically speaking, as many species as they can, the rarest the better. That is a very hard thing to do and I feel nothing but respect for those folks. Others approach it from the conservationist point of view. They try to denounce injustices, raise awareness towards endangered species and protect our environment. I feel even greater respect for those who do this kind of work. But I am driven by something else. I do enjoy science and I love to photograph and study new species. I do feel committed to the environment and I hope my work somehow can inspire others to take care of such a wonderful treasure. But I am not a scientist nor my approach is scientific. I am neither an activist even though sometimes I behave like one. I think of my self as an artist and this is my medium. This is the art than makes me feel useful and it gives me purpose. Science aims to generate knowledge and help us understand the world. Conservationism aims to create awareness and mitigate our impact on the planet. I feel art can function in either of these territories and many more, but for me, art aims to inspire, to touch the soul and make it more sensible to our surroundings. Art seeks to create connections between people and emotions. And we are all looking for a connections in our lives: we seek them in our friends, our families, our jobs, religions, philosophies… everywhere. I feel connected to nature and art, both ethically and aesthetically and I search to explore and understand that connection.

I know eventually I’ll start painting again. I feel the urge to do so. But when I do, my passion for nature and exploring the world, will be, without a trace of doubt, a big part of it.

Thank you.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

Dancing Elephants by Heinrich Kley Dancing Elephants by Heinrich Kley

What nobody tells you as an artist is that every project starts at the beginning. Not just the blank page, the empty stage, but that you have to re-establish your credentials and your quality every time. You can coast on reputation a little, but it doesn’t last long if you don’t deliver.

What nobody tells you is that praise—a standing ovation, a good review, your teacher’s approval—makes you feel good for a day, but one line of internet criticism from a stranger reverberates in your skull forever.

Frankly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

(I tried to feel bad when that critic killed himself the next year, but I didn’t.)

What nobody tells your boyfriend is that writing 3000 words in a calm, soothing, supportive environment still leaves you too tired to call home at the end of the day. So does…

View original post 747 more words

I don’t know what is it about Polar bears, but feel they represent the true essence of nature: they are beautiful, they are strong, they are brutal and yet they are delicate.

There is no other animal, anywhere, that has had such an impact on me when face to face with it. So today, before you go crazy on the weekend and spend a fortune on gin tonics, I’d like you to visit: Polars Bears International and check it out. You can donate, buy gifts or adopt.

We are destroying the ice sheet and soon there will be nothing but water where there was ice. Soon there will be no life where there were polar bears.

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Today I’ll share with you a very short post, consisting of two images that show different approaches to the same subject.

I’ve said before that the wildebeest migration is probably one of the most overwhelming events in nature. The sound, the speed, the coordination, the fear, the rumbling of the earth beneath the determined beasts…

In the first image I wanted to capture the movement of animals and water, so I closed my aperture to f25 and used a slow speed in my 500mm. For me this image has a more dreamy and lyric dimension to it.

In the second image I tried the opposite, freezing the action in the frame, slowing down time… so I used f8 to get higher speeds.

Which one do you like better and why?

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(Here I reproduce an article I just published in Wildlife Photographic eMag, which you can download here https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wildlife-photographic-photography/id668779090?mt=8 )

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I approach nature photography with two main goals in mind:

• To capture and portray a sense of place.

• To convey a sense of intimacy to the viewer in a way that confronting a photo is the closest he or she can get to being there without actually being there. 

So when I first approached Sierra de Bahoruco, this was my mind set and pre-established goals … but that would soon change as the need to communicate a sense of urgency and commitment to the conservation of such a place took over.

Sierra de Bahoruco is an important part of the history of Hispaniola (the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic). These mountains, reaching nearly 9 thousand feet at Pic La Selle, served as a hideout for the indigenous Taíno as they tried to escape the cruelty and bloodshed that the Spanish colonisers brought with them. The Sierra is  specially known as the safe haven chosen by Enriquillo (a Taíno chief originally named Guarocuya), who fled there to defend himself and his people from the Spaniards for over ten years, making him the first Amerindian rebel of the continent. Later, the same mystical mountains protected the African slaves as they rebelled against the French and Spanish colonial oppression on both sides of the island. Since 2004, Sierra de Bahoruco, with its 270 thousand acres, became the largest terrestrial protected area of the Dominican Republic, serving as a refuge to most of the island’s unique biodiversity,  but if the trend continues, not for long.  Unfortunately, no one is listening to its desperate calls. 

Separated by a gruelling 4 to 5-hour car ride to Santo Domingo, with no major urban centers nearby, Sierra de Bahoruco is a good example of out of sight, out of mind.  Since the park’s boundaries on the ground are non-existent, claiming a piece of land on this unguarded territory and leasing it to the long queue of landless and desperately poor Haitian farmers goes usually unnoticed. Likewise, bribes to border and forests guards for looking the other way when trees are turned to gigantic charcoal ovens are commonplace.  Although illegal, the charcoal trade provides income to many in this poor region, since it is the main cooking fuel in Haiti and some rural Dominican communities. Thus, under the indifference of the Dominican authorities, a lot of Dominican farmers and entrepreneurs have plundered the Sierra’s unique forests, resulting in widespread erosion of its steep slopes, leaving its limestone rock substrate exposed after a few harvests.

In terms of bird conservation, Sierra de Bahoruco holds a privileged spot and it is a must see for all bird scholars and enthusiasts. This national park provides a habitat for 28 of the 31 species of endemic birds, and hosts 32 of the 34 birds with restricted ranges on the island.  These include the Black-capped Petrel, including its  the only known nesting ground in the world, the rare Bay-breasted Cuckoo, the La Selle’s Thrush and the largest population of Hispaniolan Crossbills in Hispaniola. Other endemic and endangered birds include the boisterous Hispaniolan parakeets and parrots, the spectacular Golden Swallow, the White-winged Warbler and the Western-chat Tanager. The Sierra is also a very important destination for 31 species of birds that migrate from North America during the winter, including Bicknells’ Thrush, an endangered songbird with approximately 90% of it’s entire population believed to winter in the Dominican Republic.

For wildlife photographers, Hispaniola presents a true challenge. Contrary to other continental destinations, as an island it has less species, with most being extremely hard to photograph. The forest is dense, the light gets hard and harsh pretty quickly and birds -with some exceptions-, are shy and weary. Besides hosting most of our endemic bird species, Bahoruco also offers chances to photograph our two endemic terrestrial mammals; the Hispaniolan Solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) and the Hispaniola Hutia (Plagiodontia aedium), and countless endemic reptiles, amphibians, plants and fungi. 

I’ve been photographing Sierra de Bahoruco for a few years now but I still feel I’ve only dipped a toe into this enchanting mountain chain. For my last visit, I hired local guide Nicolás Corona in an attempt to find and photograph the elusive Solenodon, an iconic creature never seen by the majority of Dominicans due to its nocturnal habits and shy nature. 

That morning I left before sunrise in a 6-hour drive from Santo Domingo to Pedernales, a little border town in the southern part of the Sierra that I would be using as base camp. Until this trip, I had always focused on the north side of “La Sierra”, as we locals call it, usually setting base in Puerto Escondido, where Kate Wallace runs the only birding lodge in the country.  Then, I would be driving up to Zapotén to spend the night in a tent near a ranger station.  However,  this time I would explore the south, staying at one of the small hostels in Pedernales and covering about 100 miles and 20 hours each day.

When I finally got to Pedernales it was already 2pm ( I had made a previous stop at Caamaño National Park to photograph Burrowing Owls) and the day was hot and humid. The thermometer marked 103ºF when we left the beach at Cabo Rojo, but 45 minutes later, after driving through dry,semi-dry,  moist and cloud forests, I reached the Sierras vast pine lands, the temperature had dropped down to 64ºF.

As I kept driving  we entered a patch of forest that had been completely burned. Nicolás explained that in early January there had been a fire that burnt for more than a week, in his opinion it was intentionally caused in order to clear land for illegal farming. As a thick, eery fog settled in, I thought of the lush cloud forests which once stood here and wondered if I’d ever see them again or if I could spare some of them elsewhere in Bahoruco from this fate.  I’ve never felt so sad facing something so beautiful.

For the next three days I went up and down the Sierra looking for birds during the day and mammals during the night, running into tarantulas, painted snails and all kind of orchids while doing so. The beauty and richness of this place has no comparison. This is the unexpected Caribbean, one filled with life and diversity, one begging to be saved, one that has seen history go by and that has suffered in the name of civilisation since Christopher Columbus set foot in this island in 1492.

As I packed my gear the last day of shooting I knew something had changed inside me and that I was forever bound to this place, and as I closed the trunk of my car and looked up one last time before driving back to the city, I promised to do everything in my power to spread the word and encourage other nature lovers to visit and protect the magical forests of Sierra de Bahoruco.

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