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Daniel J. Cox Wins Environmental Impact Award

By August 12, 2022No Comments
Home page of Arctic Documentary Project, showing a photo of snow covered mountains.

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Marketing, Communications & Blog Coordinator

The North American Nature Photography Association’s (NANPA) Environmental Impact Award honors a “photographic project addressing an important and urgent regional or global environmental problem.” The 2023 Environmental Impact Award goes to Daniel J. Cox, who will also be a keynote speaker at NANPA’s 2023 Nature Photography Summit in Tucson, May 4-6. He is no stranger to NANPA, having previously received NANPA’s Outstanding Nature Photographer of the Year Award in 2013 and was named a NANPA Fellow in 2021.

To win the Environmental Impact Award, the photographer’s work must be of “exceedingly high quality” and include a “component that creates and distributes high quality educational material so as to enhance public awareness, including material created to influence decision makers.” That certainly describes Cox’s photography and storytelling for Polar Bears International and as director of the Arctic Documentary Project. As NANPA Awards Committee chair, Dr. Paul Brooke, said, Cox “has led the charge to understand the crisis there by incorporating organizations and scientists/biologists in the field. The committee recognizes his remarkable vision and passion for nature photography, plus he donates many of his images to the organizations he works with to ensure that the photographs are put to great use.”

Cox took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to give us a glimpse into his world.

From rock and roll to polar bears

Cox didn’t set out to be a nature photographer. In fact, he says, “I used to be the lead singer of two different rock bands when going through high school. The first one was called Stone Cold. The second was Crossroads. When I think back on about my time in the bands I’m amazed at how different that was compared to what I do today. As much as I enjoyed my time playing gigs in high school, I can’t imagine that lifestyle today. Playing rock and roll, with all that goes with it, is about as far away from my current passion as I could get.”

 

The switch to digital and streaming music disrupted that business about as much as it did photography. That’s been one of the surprises many nature photographers have had to face. The fact that it’s no longer possible to earn a living selling photos of wildlife and nature subjects has been a long and slowly developing challenge. “I would have never thought the industry would take such a major turn that I would have to change directions like I did,” Cox says. “Today, I still work with a few select publications but the money from these jobs is simply gravy. In the 80-90s I was able to earn a very good income producing natural history photography. The bad news is the industry changed. The good news is I’m still a photographer, with the difference being that today I earn my living teaching.”

Tech gives as well as takes

As technology has made it more difficult to make a living through nature photography, it has also provided some major benefits. “Technology just keeps evolving, creating photography gear that’s more portable and less expensive,” Cox says. “That’s an extremely positive development for making life easier on the road. My use of Micro Four Thirds cameras for the work I do is just one example of the changes I’ve seen in the 40+ years I’ve been doing this.”

Photographers will have to continue to adapt and take advantage of what the new gear offers. “I don’t think downsizing is stopping anytime soon,” he said. “There’s so much misinformation about the size of the cameras and lenses one needs to produce world class nature photography. My desire to do more with less has taken hold across my entire way of life. Americans have adopted this mentality that the bigger something is the better. As most know, that’ not always true. It’s mostly a prestige thing, from houses to cars to camera systems. I challenge people to figure out what it is they want to do with their photography and if you don’t need the biggest and the most expensive, think about downsizing. You’ll be surprised at the benefits you never expected.”

Challenges

Constantly evolving technology isn’t the only challenge photographers like Cox face. With heat waves, wildfires, overdevelopment of sensitive areas, and reports of species on the brink of extinction, much need to be done. “Getting people interested in saving the planet we live on,” is one challenge Cox is rising to meet. “The beauty of the natural world has always been inspirational for people. I’m hopeful that still holds true going into the future. One of the downsides to enticing people to get out and explore our wild lands is the problem of those special places getting overrun with people. My hope is that users of these lands start writing their political representatives and voice their support for more wild areas. I often hear from some politicians an interest in selling off public lands. Are you kidding me? We need more public lands not less. Just look at the record numbers of people visiting our national parks. Our country obviously loves our public lands. We need to let our representatives understand that loud and clear.”

What’s next

“My ongoing photo tours are always my next project. It’s the way I earn my living now and it gives me the ability to do my volunteer work for Polar Bears International and the Arctic Documentary Project (ADP). My work on the ADP has been going since the mid 90’s and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. The ADP gives me a reason to still do what I call my “serious work” and I’m so grateful for that.”

Congratulations to Daniel J. Cox, recipient of NANPA’s 2023 Environmental Impact Award. See more of his work at his

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