Images of natural landscapes have spoken to our souls since the time we started painting them on cave walls. And every few months, it seems, another new report touts the healing benefits of the outdoors and green spaces.
In fact, a new study from Finland found that after stressful or concentration-demanding situations, people recover faster in natural, green settings — such as forests — than in urban settings. Depression, anger, and aggressiveness have all been found to be reduced in natural, green environments. Even ADHD symptoms in children were lessened when they played in green places.
We appreciate natural landscapes for the ability they have to instill in us a sense of peace; we frame them and hang them on living room and bedroom walls, as a refuge from the hectic world out there.
But there’s a new, interesting twist on this sense of peace and well-being that gazing at images of nature instills in us. When nature photographs go on their own worldwide adventures, can they help create a more peaceful planet?
The shot shown ‘round the world
On the cover of the May/June issue of Sierra Magazine, there’s a photograph of a man, a woodworker in Afghanistan, holding Ian Shive’s 2009 coffee-table book, The National Parks: Our American Landscape. The book is open to a two-page spread, which depicts a coyote pup on one side and the Teton Range during a storm on the other. It’s a jarring image; a person who we might see as an “enemy” pondering the beauty of our country’s natural places.
The article that accompanies the photo asks readers to take stock of their feelings at the moment: how do you, as an American, feel about this foreigner, a world away from us in location — and, perhaps, in philosophy and religion — contemplating one of the most iconic and beautiful natural areas of your homeland?
The book was distributed in Afghanistan as part of a program called “wilderness diplomacy.” If it’s true that images of natural places call to all of us as humans, why not send photos on their own adventures around the world to “speak” to people who don’t know us? The hope is that nature photography will bridge the divide between mutually distrustful cultures.
Most people of the world see only the images of the United States that depict New York or Hollywood. Most never realize that there are many other sides to America; that we respect and protect our most beautiful, rare, rugged, and untouched places. Could these images of our wildlife, forests, and flora resonate with Afghans? Will they help to show that our two cultures and countries have more in common than what we might have originally thought?
An image without end
Much like a photo taken of you in a mirror that is reflected back in what seems like unending frames, Shive hopes to travel to Afghanistan, take photos of its most scenic wild places, and make a book to show to Americans. Someday, a sunset shot of a deep-blue Zorkul in the Pamir Mountains could end up in the hands of a Midwesterner, like me. And a shot of that Midwesterner holding a book open to a page with the image of that lake will work its way back to Afghanistan, to show to a woodworker in Kabul. And on and on it goes, making connections that foster feelings of peace in all of us.
If you could select one of your nature photos to send on a worldwide adventure in the cause of peace, which one would it be — and where would you send it?
Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,