Thursday, October 30, 2014

Illusions Abound

The mild Florida fall weather resembles an endless New England summer. But as gorgeous weather continues to play tricks on my mind, pumpkin-flavored-everything and Halloween candy galore remind me that it's just an illusion, and October has in fact come to a close. Illusions abounded throughout the month of October, but it wasn't only because of the beautiful weather.

The exhibit was featured on the Santa Fe website - use this link to see the full article.
My first photography exhibit, titled Illusions, was on display at the Santa Fe College President's Hall gallery for the month of October. It was made up of 27 photographs (framed prints, canvases, and wooden photo boards) and associated text panels that blended science and storytelling. Each panel also included QR codes that linked to the full blog posts where I had originally written about each photo at some point over the past 3 years. The goal of the exhibit was to inspire in others a true appreciation for our beautiful, but fragile and endangered, spring ecosystems. Photography is an avenue for me to share both the magic and misery of Florida's springs, and it allows me to connect and communicate with people in ways that are not possible using science alone.

The idea for the theme of the show was originally inspired by what my favorite author Cynthia Barnett calls the "illusion of water abundance." I first drew the parallel between my reflective springs photos and Barnett's illusion in my Illusions blog post in March 2014; the introduction text panel for the exhibit summarizes the "illusions" story:

This post, and Cynthia's beautiful words, came to life when the exhibit went up on October 6th. And today, the last day of the exhibit, the UF College of Journalism officially announced that Cynthia Barnett will be joining the school as a visiting professor. I am beyond excited to take her Environmental Journalism class in the spring and have the opportunity to work with someone who has been such a huge inspiration for me. The J-School and UF students are incredibly lucky to have her!

Talking to Cynthia Barnett and her husband Aaron at the opening. I highly recommend her two water books (Mirage and Blue Revolution) - the New York Times and Tampa Bay Times recommend them too ;) Cynthia has been a huge inspiration for me and has taught us all so much about Florida's water and how we can move forward with a new water ethic. Can't wait for her book about rain to be released in April 2015! 
Putting the exhibit together was a lot of fun - and also much more work than I anticipated. This was my first show and it ended up being an incredible learning experience as well as a great crash course in 'how to do an art show on a grad student budget.' I printed, matted and framed all 8 of the white photos myself, and besides taking many many hours, this process turned our living room into a framing gallery as it simultaneously became littered with boxes and large canvases splashed with every imaginable shade of blue.

Some of the photos in the exhibit, before the text panels were installed. Thank you again to Santa Fe's gallery manager Kyle Novak for laying out and installing every piece! He also printed the text panels and the exhibit title, which I am standing next to on the night of the opening in the middle photo.
The crew at Santa Fe was absolutely amazing to work with and made the whole process very enjoyable. The gallery manager Kyle Novak set the bar high for future shows - he answered my every question, printed the text panels and QR codes, and installed (and took down!) every piece. He also gave up a Friday night to help set up for and clean up from the gallery opening celebration - a huge thank you to Kyle! It was surreal to walk into a giant room to find the walls filled with my artwork - it was both confusing and wonderful, and it felt like diving into a dozen springs at once!

The opening was an evening that I will certainly never forget. I was completely overwhelmed by the number of people that came (about 70!). I feel so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such a wonderful community - to my labmates, friends, family, the springs community, and everyone in between, you seriously all made me so happy and words can't express how much it means to me that you all came to show your support and celebrate the springs!

Lesley and John are champions for our springs, incredible writers and artists, and are truly two of the most amazing people I have ever met - thank you both for all that you have taught me and for many fun adventures, starting with The Springs Eternal Project and continuing into the future :) 
My mom and Harry take a look at the playful manatee. It was wonderful to have my parents in town for the exhibit opening and birthday weekend - they have always been my biggest cheerleaders and supporters. It was exciting that they got to meet Harry, who has basically adopted me as a granddaughter - he took me on my first springs dive, my first cavern dive, first cave dive, and got me outfitted in and comfortable in sidemount gear and continues to teach me new things about photography and diving on every single dive. 
Calendars for sale on opening night. 
I still can't believe how many people who I really look up to came out to opening night. David and Dee, who I worked for the year before starting grad school, continue to bring endless smiles to my life and have been incredible mentors, teaching me about everything from videography, photography, and diving, to how to have a happy, optimistic outlook about life in general. Also in the background of this photo is Mike, one of the biologists I worked for at USGS when I first moved to Gainesville - he and Ken taught me everything I know about the Suwannee River and sturgeon. Mike was the first person to suggest I visit a spring and then he and Ken took me to several along the banks of the Suwannee at the end of our long days of sturgeon fishing on the tannic river.
You can find more photos from the opening night HERE.

I truly appreciate everyone's support and incredibly kind words. I am excited that the University of Florida (UF) Journalism School bought the 8 framed photos for their conference room and the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (IFAS) conference center in Citra, Florida is graciously allowing me to use their space as a rotating gallery and is also buying some larger pieces to hang permanently. If you missed the exhibit, the text panels and most of the photos will be on display again shortly!

And as a happy end to the springs story (for now!), after a few weeks without rain, the skies opened up just as I loaded the last of my exhibit photos into the car. I drove home in the downpour, dreaming of swimming in the rain and taking photos on this weekend's springs adventures.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mission Blue

The future of the aquifer is in our hands...

Here, I am holding a tiny piece of the Floridan aquifer - and if you live in Florida, you are too. Here in the Sunshine State, we live on top of our main supply of drinking water - it winds its way through cavernous limestone tunnels beneath our feet.

The Floridan aquifer itself is massive. It's so huge that most Floridians naively assume we couldn't possibly have an impact on the quantity and quality of water beneath our feet. But fresh off a viewing of the must-watch documentary Mission Blue, I now realize that this is exactly what we thought about the ocean not too long ago. The vast, blue ocean at one time seemed unchangeable.

Mission Blue is a documentary about the amazing life of pioneering oceanographer and ocean explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle. I actually meant to post this story a few weeks ago, but last weekend I got a lot of inspiration from fellow writers at the National Association of Science Writers conference in Columbus, Ohio. A few days chalk full of info-packed, dynamic sessions on everything from science blogging to pitching stories and writing science for children, has given me the extra spark of creative energy. Also, our badges for the conference, besides having our name and Twitter handle, asked us to write the name of our science hero. I penciled in "Sylvia Earle" on mine without hesitation, which of course reminded me of Mission Blue.

Anyway, her story is compelling from several perspectives - it's inspiring not only for budding marine biologists, scientists, and educators, but for women in general. She became a scientist during a time when women weren't exactly viewed as science material; I was surprised to see many of the newspaper articles and old video clips in the film that portrayed women as bikini-clad girls more likely to lay tanning on the beach. But Dr. Earle forged ahead, leading expeditions to the deepest parts of the ocean, heading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and blazing a path for not only women scientists but all marine scientists and oceanographers. Dr. Earle is still speaking for the oceans - in the documentary, she says she spends about 300 days out of the year traveling, speaking, and sharing her unparalleled knowledge of the ocean. She is the embodiment of a smart, strong, and well-respected woman (who is often referred to as "Her Deepness"). I can only hope that little girls idolize her when they're growing up instead of the next up-and-coming Disney pop star.

The documentary is tragic yet beautiful and very compelling - basically, Dr. Earle explains how we are all tied to the ocean and why we should all care about the sea regardless of our proximity to the coast. She extended Aldo Leopold's land ethic and the U.S. national parks system to the ocean via "hope spots" and explains why it is extremely important to protect our oceans. The tone of the film is concerned and "doomsday" enough to get your attention but not leave you altogether depressed - she is optimistic in that she says there is still time for us to mitigate the damage we have done.

Dr. Earle concisely sums up the essence of the problem as "no blue, no green." Basically, without the ocean, we have nothing. But this is directly applicable to freshwater as well.

Crystal clarity at Blue Spring, Gilchrist County, Florida. Dr. Earle's "no blue no green" applies to our aquifer and springs as well as the ocean.
This "Mission Blue" needs to be applied to our groundwater, which is the water that ~90% of us in Florida rely on as a source of drinking water. It is all too often "out of sight, out of mind." Just like the surface of the ocean does not appear to be changing (and prevents people from seeing and recognizing the problem with their own eyes), we are blind to changes happening in the aquifer. But the springs are here to tell us the story - and like the algae that currently dominates many once-pristine reefs worldwide, many springs have also transitioned to an algal dominated state. Besides the negative implications for these irreplaceable ecosystems, this is also a telltale sign of problems regarding the future of Florida's water.

So remember, if you live in Florida, the aquifer is in your hands, our hands. So let's protect it like our lives depend upon it... because they do.