Colin Dodgson’s lyrical depiction of environmental conservation

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Deeper Green charts the photographer’s journey through several of Belize’s protected reserves

Colin Dodgson did not approach Deeper Green as he usually would a project. The photographer went in with an open mind — free from any preconceived ideas of what he wanted to create. Belize was unfamiliar territory, and Dodgson wanted his experience to give shape to the images he made.

The photographer arrived in the Central American country in December 2018 and spent 10 days shadowing rangers affiliated with the World Land Trust — an international conservation charity — specifically the Programme for Belize and the Corozal Sustainable Futures Initiative. On the occasion of the organisations 30th anniversary, Jonny Lu, a close friend and ambassador for the WLT, had invited Dodgson to document the WLT’s protected reserves.

The pair spent their first evening driving around Belize City — “feeling it out”. The landscape was dilapidated. Dodgson soon discovered a brightly painted supermarket among the decrepitude and photographed one of the walls — a slab of luminescent paint: “It was remarkable that the first strong green colour was from the side of a building in the city”.

© Colin Dodgson.

Dodgson’s trip took him deep into the jungle, through forests and ancient ruins, down desolate roads and rivers, and into isolated religious communities and ranger stations. His approach remained abstract. Responding to the people and places he encountered — the textures, the colours, the light — Dodgson’s images feel poetic. Far from a straightforward documentary approach, the work embodies the environment and atmosphere of the places in which it was made: the Rio Bravo Conservation area; the archaeological site of La Milpa; and the Shipstern conservation and management area in the Corozal district of northeastern Belize.

Dodgson’s resulting photobook charts his journey and takes us with him: “I wanted it to feel like the viewer is on an unknown adventure, where each turn of the page could bring a new surprise.”

Below, Dodgson explains the story behind the project and reflects on photography’s role in the fight against environmental degradation.

© Colin Dodgson.
© Colin Dodgson.
© Colin Dodgson.

British Journal of Photography: Did you have a preconceived idea of what you wanted to photograph ahead of the trip? Or did your approach evolve while you were there?

Colin Dodgson: For most of my work, I tend to have some kind of loose idea in my head of what I would like to accomplish — not an exact idea but a loose one, almost like daydreaming. But, for this, I wanted to go into it completely free of any preconceived ideas. I wanted the experience to wash over me. I wanted to make work that was about how I felt, as well as what I saw: a mix of feelings and experiences. But, I had no idea what the images would be like.

BJP: Can you explain more about the situation in Belize and the organisations that you were collaborating with?

CD: The two main organisations that we spent time with were Programme for Belize and the Corozal Sustainable Futures Initiative.  Both of these organisations work on the ground and in the field to protect wildlife and the protected land corridors in which the animals live.  They work with local communities to educate them about the importance of fighting forest fires, which cause natural deforestation, keeping tabs on land clearance, and wildlife protection.  Education is key for these local communities.  The organisations undertake a certain amount of enforcement too — the reserves they look after are prime targets for poaching and the illegal harvesting of plants.

The two organisations are the backbone of conservation in the country.  Without them fighting to protect endangered species and prevent further deforestation caused by agrarian religious organisations such as the Mennonites, many plant and wildlife species would likely go extinct.

© Colin Dodgson.
© Colin Dodgson.
© Colin Dodgson.

BJP: How did the project develop into a book?

CD: We began the project not knowing what the outcome would be — whether it would be a book, or an exhibition, or whatever because we did not know what to expect once we were there. After working for the past year on it we felt that the story was best told in book form. I wanted it to feel like the viewer is on an unknown adventure with us, where each turn of the page could bring a new surprise.

BJP: Do you think that photography is an effective medium for raising awareness about environmental issues? Do you think it has the power to bring about change? 

CD: Yes absolutely. I think that anything has the capacity to raise awareness if you utilise it correctly.  I feel very lucky to be in a position where I can use photography to make big statements about the world at large and specifically, for this project, about the state of conservation in Belize.  When you show people more of the world, you give them a shared sense of ownership of it.  It is hard to unsee things and hopefully by showing people more of what is happening one can enable a larger number of people to form an opinion and therefore make more educated choices in their everyday lives, which help to combat the bigger environmental issues that we are facing today.

BJP: What do you hope that viewers take away from this series?

CD: I hope that people see this as a more personal and approachable way to look at a huge issue like conservation and that it empowers them to utilise whatever tools they may possess to make a difference on issues that they feel passionate about.

100 per cent of profits from sales of Deeper Green will be donated to the World Land Trust.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she was Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.