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Boots on the Ground: Portraits of Conservation Stewards from the Headwaters of the Florida Everglades

Dustin Angell is an environmental educator and conservation photographer living and working in the Headwaters of the Florida Everglades. As the Director of Education at Archbold Biological Station in Venus, FL, he builds community relationships and interprets
ecological research for audiences of all ages. Dustin’s photography documents the science and conservation challenges of the region and the people trying to solve them. Dustin is the current President of the League of Environmental Educators in Florida and the recipient of the 2015 Outstanding Educator Award from the Florida Chapter of the Wildlife Society.

Artist Statement

I moved to Highlands County, Florida in 2013 to begin work as an educator at Archbold Biological Station. This science and conservation organization works across the Headwaters of the Florida Everglades, a 2.6 million acre region that stretches from Orlando to Lake Okeechobee. Immediately, I was immersed in a community of volunteers and professionals involved in environmental stewardship. This included co-workers as well as people from other non-profits and agencies. Daily contact and behind-the-scenes access led me to an important recognition in the fall of 2014: I was in a remarkable position to photograph this community. Six years and over seventy-five portrait sessions later, the project continues to grow and take shape.

This photo project aims to document the people, places, and careers related to conservation in the region. To that end, the subjects each pose in their work clothes while holding the tools they use. Most subjects are wildlife biologists or ecological researchers of some kind, but others are land managers, artists, archeologists, volunteers, and educators. They pose in the outdoor spaces where they work. Due to the importance of conservation to the community, these settings are subjects, too, and include: grasslands, scrublands, pinelands, ranchlands, wetlands, and others.

Many elements of the portraits, like setting and lighting, postures and expressions, and even the angle I photograph from (usually kneeling on the ground) are intended to highlight the heroic aspects of the subjects. After all, these stewards spend hundreds or thousands of hours in Florida’s hot and humid interior. They slog through wetlands and rainy-season floods, and share the land with mosquitos, venomous snakes, and alligators. They operate chainsaws while high in pine trees, direct landscape-scale prescribed fires, and drive off-road in trucks, ATV’s, and swamp buggies.

Ultimately, I wish for future generations of Floridians to share and pass along a home that is alive with wild places and healthy ecosystems. These portraits are for them: a reminder of the community of people who, at a critical time in our history, oriented their lives and careers toward the stewardship needed to deliver that future.