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Robert Glenn Ketchum: Using Pictures to Save The World
Episode 10024th November 2020 • Not Real Art • Crewest Studio
00:00:00 01:27:28

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Today’s guest is pioneering conservation photographer, Robert Glenn Ketchum. Robert's imagery and books have helped to define contemporary color photography while at the same time addressing critical national environmental issues, having made him one of the most successful artists and activists in American history. In today’s episode, Robert talks about the development of his career, the many adventures his work has taken him on, and the social change these projects have kickstarted. We dive straight in hearing Robert talk about the Pebble Mine campaign he is involved in currently where he is fighting against the construction of the largest gold and cyanide leech mine in the history of the world in Southwest Alaska. From there, Robert rewinds to his days as a student at UCLA in the 60s, where he started his photography career taking snaps of the famous bands that played in his neighborhood. On the way back from the Monterey Pop Festival, Robert camped out at Limekiln Creek to break the trip up, and in a moment of contemplation next to a quiet stream he got the idea to pivot into conservation photography. Robert’s career blew up after that event, and he tells one epic tale after another about the different campaigns he fell into, the huge names he rubbed shoulders with, and the incredible ripple effects his photographs had. We also get to hear Robert's thoughts on some of the most vital sides of being an artist, how to secure money, and how to increase the clout of one’s projects. Wrapping up our conversation, Robert tells a few more awe-inspiring stories about how he started translating his prints into textiles after discovering the quality Chinese embroidery. Tune in for tales of adventure, discovery, and serendipity, all powered by a passion for creativity and our natural environment with Robert today.


Key Points From This Episode:

  • The campaign Robert is working on to protest the Pebble Mine in South West Alaska.
  • Robert’s book, Southwest Alaska, which talks about overfishing in Crystal Bay.
  • Saving San Ignacio Lagoon with Joel Reynolds from the NRDC and recruiting him for the Southwest Alaska work.
  • The multi-tiered nature of the campaigns Robert works on; drawing on multiple channels.
  • The funds necessary to launch these big campaigns which groups smaller than the NRDC wouldn’t manage.
  • The power of branding to spread public awareness about bad practices.
  • Differences in quality between wild and farmed salmon and Robert’s adventures with Alaskan locals.
  • Robert’s experiences shooting famous bands in LA in the 1960s.
  • How Robert got the idea to transition into environmental photography on the way back from Monterey Pop.
  • Moving to the East Coast to work on a project in the Hudson River Valley.
  • Photographing destructive practices in the Hudson River Valley and getting published by Aperture.
  • Passing the largest timber reform bill in the U.S’s history during the Tongass Rainforest Project.
  • Getting invited onto the board of the American Land Conservancy and helping save Limekiln Creek.
  • Robert’s ‘method’ involving simply taking pictures and falling into one project after another.
  • Using contrasting images of natural beauty and destruction in campaigns.
  • How Robert realized the power of photography after photos of his caused real changes.
  • Founding the International League of Conservation Photographers.
  • The need for artists with great ideas to secure funding and how Robert did this.
  • Events related to the publicity and funding of the Tongass Rainforest Project.
  • Some of the books that Robert has published and collections he has curated.
  • Getting invited by Robert Redford to be an artist in residence at his Sundance Institute.
  • An expedition on William E. Simon’s private yacht through the Northwest Passage.
  • How Robert convinced Bill Simon that the Tongass logging was not ethical.
  • The story of finding out about Suzhou embroidery prowess and getting photos translated into textiles. 
  • How Robert is incorporating his knowledge of Chinese silk into clothing products.
  • The story behind the print Sourdough bought from Robert depicting Arctic diurnal fog.

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