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  Field Notes From
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From Photographer

Peter Essick

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph by Peter Essick


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Global Warming

Field Notes From Photographer
Peter Essick

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    The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico City is a very beautiful and unique place. In the morning, all the butterflies were clustered around the trees, so I'd set up and wait. After a while they'd open their wings, which was pretty neat to photograph because of all the patterns.
    Later in the afternoon thousands and thousands of them would start flying. It was great to finally experience sitting under the trees and watching them, although they were harder to photograph because of the movement.

    On my first night in Ethiopia I was in a small village, and my guide and I went out to eat. I like Ethiopian food and tried many things. That night when I went back to my hotel I felt a little bit queasy. And as time went on, I got progressively worse. It was a really bad case of food poisoning—the worst I've ever had. For about five days I couldn't eat anything other than bread, cookies, and water. But I had only a few days of shooting there, so I had to keep working on the story throughout my illness.

    I visited an Ohio State University scientist who studies climate change by drilling ice cores in tropical glaciers. To keep the samples cold, he takes them back to the university and puts them in a special freezer set at minus 20°F (minus 30°C).
    Photographing him in the freezer reminded me of the Arctic. I'd set up the lights and then run out to warm up my hands. Then I'd go back in, take a Polaroid to test the light, put the camera in a Ziploc bag and go back out, take the camera out again, and warm it up. After looking at the Polaroid, I'd put the camera back in the bag and go back in to adjust the lights. It was almost comical.
    The extreme cold made the cameras work very slowly, and the focusing ring on the lenses froze up. I've done some shooting in the Arctic where it was that cold, but setting up a little studio in a freezer was a different thing entirely.


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