Robert Glenn Ketchum is a pioneering conservation photographer, recognized by Audubon magazine as one of 100 people “who shaped the environmental movement in the 20th century.” He tells us the stories of his photos and influential work from Mexico to Alaska and more.
When I was very young, my dad was a hunter and a fisherman and spent, a portion of his life, leaving his office and going with his friends to shoot pheasants in Nebraska or something. He didn’t take me hunting, but he did take me fishing. And we did some stream fishing and I grew to love that process and started to really like being out of doors with my dad.
Half of my dad’s business was based in Honolulu because he helped rebuild the fleet after he was in industrial auto parts manufacturing, and he distributed for all of the Eastern manufacturers. He distributed their parts on the West coast. And so when Pearl Harbor occurred and the Navy got bombed out and they had to rebuild the fleet, my father opened an office in Honolulu and help the Navy rebuild their fleet. And so he was in Hawaii oh, I dunno, six months a year doing all of that. And he when I was five, I think, maybe seven. He flew my mom and me over and said, why don’t you spend the summer with me. And they didn’t know what to do with me. So they brought me a brownie box camera and let me wander around in the Kahala Hotel garden and take pictures of random leaves. I had no idea what I was doing.
Two questions I asked myself:
- “What are you doing? And my response was, I don’t really know and what am I supposed to do? And the comeback was, what do you want to do? And I said if I could be Elliot quarter, but be out in front of these incidents rather than after the fact when they’ve already occurred, I would do that in a heartbeat.”
- “This was really interesting because the next question was. Would you do it if you were never famous? Rock photography is about being famous. And so the question was what would you do if you were never famous and I was like, if I succeeded, I would do it as long as I succeeded.”
In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World by Elliot Porter and Henry David Thoreau
I’ve been a conservation environmentalist, my whole life. It’s frustrating. I think we have to be very wary of the idea of compromising, which is what Elliot Porter’s book on the Glen Canyon pointed out. The compromise was the Grand Canyon gets saved, but Glen Canyon gets drowned. When I met with Elliott in his house, and I asked him about it and I said, “your book has inspired me, do you have any laments about this?” And he said, yeah, “that I couldn’t do it before the project got started, and that everything I did was after the fact.” And that inspired me to be in front of issues like the Tongass Rain Forest and the Pebble Mine so that they never even got traction and we shut them out before they got started.
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Favorite Piece of Gear under $100: Patagonia Zip Turtleneck
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1:03 – 01:45 Intro to the Outdoors 19:34 – 20:40 Advice 55:43 – 56:26 Favorite Books