National Geographic photographer will display, discuss work

by Robin Huiras

Imagine walking through a dense grove of rainforest trees, where the thickness of the canopy forms a barrier to any sunlight. Climbing to the tops of these gigantic trees, a world bursting with light, color and activity unfolds; an explosion of life high above the earth below.
The image is a reality for award-winning photojournalist Mark Moffett. Tonight at the Bell Museum of Natural History, Moffett will share his experiences of the past 23 years studying and photographing life which thrives in the canopy, also detailed in his new book, “The High Frontier: Exploring the Tropical Rainforest Canopy.”
At age 14, Moffett began publishing biological papers. When most kids in junior high collected baseball cards, Moffett collected insects. And at 16, when most kids couldn’t wait to get out of the house and into a car, Moffett couldn’t wait to get into a tree.
And he did just that. Leaving high school for the rainforests of Central America and South America at age 16, Moffett began to see and study things most can only dream about.
“My life has been very strange. I keep reinventing myself and I’m adaptable. I find joy in surviving in the middle of the jungle and the diversity of things,” Moffett said.
Cary Yang, chairwoman of Coffman Union Program Council’s forum committee, which is co-sponsoring the lecture, said Moffett’s presentation is subject matter never before displayed at the University. She added that it fits well with the rainforest series currently at the Bell Museum.
“Most of the world’s bio-diversity is found on the tops of trees,” Moffett said. “The estimate of the number of species in these trees changed my view of the planet.”
Moffett expresses this view through photographs of canopy life. Featured regularly in National Geographic magazine, his pictures tell stories more precisely than any other medium, he said.
“Photographs show the drama of nature with accuracy; they retain the beauty of things while telling the story,” Moffett said.
When not working in the rainforest, Moffett lectures at the University of California-Berkeley and other institutions about various issues relating to the forests. Although not a professor, Moffett holds a doctorate in ecology from Harvard University and is an associate entomologist at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.
“My role in telling stories is far more exciting than teaching,” said Moffett. “All creative people are storytellers of some kind; it’s just a matter of how creative you are.”
He added that it is not enough to explain why a rainforest is wonderful; its wonder will come through a picture taken on top of the canopy.
Although nationally recognized for his photography, Moffett said his real interest is in the scientific aspect of his work.
“If you want to know about nature, learn about it — and then learn how to write or photograph,” he said. “An education makes it richer.”
The presentation features some of the photographs Moffett has taken during his rainforest study and exploration. Vistas of landscapes from the top of sequoia trees, mating dances of jumping spiders and social communities of ants are but a few shots Moffett will display.
Included in the presentation is discussion on the composition of rainforests and the problems they face, a subject he has studied extensively through research in South America, Australia, Southeast Asia and Africa.
Ann Lee, vice president of Coffman Union Program Council said Moffett’s presentation at the University is part of the committee’s main mission to provide diverse educational activities within the University community.
More information on the presentation can be found at the events or books icon at www.bookstore.umn.edu.