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‘Hope’, the new book by Cristina Mittermeier

Hope by Cristina Mittermeier
Thought Leader: Cristina Mittermeier
April 12, 2024
Source: Photo Vogue

Cristina Mittermeier, the founder of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) and co-founder of SeaLegacy, is a seminal figure in the preservation of ecosystems and indigenous cultures worldwide. She has pioneered conservation photography, a genre that seeks not only to capture the beauty of nature but to engage actively in its protection, fostering awareness and advocacy through visual storytelling. Her recent project, ‘Hope,’ assembles a collection of photographs that inspire optimism for the environmental cause. This project navigates the intricate relationship between humans and nature amidst climate change, opting for a hopeful narrative over apocalyptic predictions. ‘Hope’ features individuals and communities from the highlands of New Guinea to the Amazon’s depths, all of whom are dedicated to nurturing a harmonious relationship with the natural world. It presents a powerful counter-narrative to hyper-consumerism and environmental exploitation, showcasing global unity in environmental stewardship.

This ethos of hope and interconnectivity deeply resonates with the theme of this year’s Global Open Call, ‘Tree of Life: A Love Letter to Nature.’ This initiative seeks to underscore the critical need for a new paradigm in our relationship with nature, advocating for a dialogue that envisions a more harmonious coexistence with our planet and its creatures. We are honored to have Mittermeier among our distinguished jury members, which includes environmental activists, experts, artists, and curators. Her vast experience and profound empathy are invaluable in guiding us toward uncovering new visions and narratives that celebrate our interconnectedness with nature.

In anticipation of the release of her book, we engaged Mittermeier in a conversation about her publication, the driving forces behind her dedication to such a vast and complex cause, and the stories encapsulated within her photographs.


1. You’ve chosen to title your project “Hope” because amidst the prevailing pessimism induced by climate change, you’ve found optimism in the resilience of communities that cherish and protect nature. These communities perceive themselves as integral parts of nature rather than detached or superior to it. Besides community support, what other factors drive and sustain your commitment to this cause?

I chose Hope as the title for my book because Hope is a choice we need to make every day. If we become Hopeless, then there truly is no Hope. Finding energy and optimism in the words, actions, and ideas of others helps me remain hopeful. In my work as a photographer, I get to meet and spend time with countless individuals who are doing their share to protect and restore the health of our planet and that keeps me hopeful for a better future.

2. The theme of hope holds particular significance in the face of widespread disillusionment, particularly among younger generations who confront increasing awareness of environmental crises. How can nature photography inspire hope without glossing over the environmental threats faced by animals and ecosystems?

Just like Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t start his famous civil rights speech by saying, “I have a nightmare,” the only way to tackle the environmental crises is by painting a picture of what our dream should be. Let’s dream about a future where our planet is healthy and alive, not apocalyptic and dying. Articulating an idea, through nature photography, of what the future could look like if we prioritize the protection of nature is the perfect antidote to disillusionment.

3. Could you please share one story behind a photograph featured in your book?

The cover of the book is entitled Wildflowers in My Hair. I made this image during a trip to visit some of the most remote tribes that still live in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia. It was a market day for this Suri tribe, and it was hot and hectic as women sold their vegetables and men herded their goats and cattle. In the midst of the noisy crowd, I spotted this beautiful girl wearing an incredible bouquet in her hair, and I asked her if I could take her photograph. It was a very bright sunlight in the middle of the busy morning, so I found a little corner where it was just open shade where I could photograph her. She was shy and as much as I tried, I could not coerce a smile from her. She patiently posed while I made my photos and then she thanked me and finally smiled. It is surprising how, somehow, a moment of acknowledgement becomes the most human moment. The deep emerald color of the walls, her eyes, her lips, and the way that she was looking at me were all illuminated in such a beautiful way. I remember thinking at that moment that the lives of people in remote communities are almost always harsh and that life, especially for women and young girls, is often tough. Despite it all, people refuse to let themselves be defined by struggle and lean instead into what makes them strong and resilient. I cannot sugarcoat the fact that, like all the other tribes I visited, the Suri people are very poor and lack much material wealth. What they do have is an unbreakable spirit, a fierce independence and a real sense of beauty that is reflected in the way they carve a living from the Earth and with the Earth in one of the harshest corners of Africa. Some of the revenue we generate from this project will be sent back to these communities to help the women buy food, medicine, and supplies for their children. There is no nonprofit or government help in this region. These people are really on their own, and they’re so brave. They find the time to be beautiful, incredibly welcoming, and hospitable, even when they lack so much. This photograph, to me, is beautiful, and it represents hope.

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