NWNL Press

NWNL Press

Tewksbury native, noted conservation photographer,
to speak to third graders

By Michelle Regan, Contributing Writer
(Reprinted from Hunterdon Review, Wednesday, April 22, 2009)

TEWKSBURY TWP. World renowned conservation photographer Alison M. Jones, a Mountainville native, will be the keynote speaker at Tewksbury Elementary School’s (TES) third grade annual Arbor Day ceremony on Friday, April 24.

“The stewardship of our land and its streams is in our hands now as adults, but will soon be in the hands of these third graders,” said Jones.

“I hope to excite them with the diversity and beauty of trees, but also the critical need for saving them. I want them to begin to understand why we must protect our forests.”

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has identified third graders to be the special recipients of Arbor Day celebrations that promote tree planting and encourage students to honor trees, according to Patrice Marturana, a member of the Tewksbury Township Board of education.

The TES assembly is exclusively for the students and will take place at 10 a.m. followed by the state’s official Arbor Day celebration, which will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Christie Hoffman Park on Fairmount Road. The TES assembly will include the delivery of a proclamation by Tewksbury Mayor Louis DiMare, the presentation of saplings to every third grade student to plant, the dedication of the 2009 Arbor Day third grade tree, which was donated by Tewksbury resident Dr. Gus Diaz; special state visitors Spring Squirrel and Woodsy Owl, and a presentation by Jones.

Tewksbury Native

“Alison M. Jones grew up in Tewksbury and went out into the world to become a conservation photographer, documenting ecosystems and conservation management,” said Marturana.  “Her presentation was chosen to inspire the third grade students.

“I hope to inspire them with photographs of the grandeur of trees I have photographed around the world,” said Jones.  “And then having caught their interest, I hope to inspire them to become conservationists as I tell them that our forests are under threat and need their protection. And who knows – maybe someday one of those third graders will become a conservation photographer!”

Jones, who was born in New York City but grew up in the Mountainville area of Tewksbury Township, was “inspired” by Alexandra Teploff,  a third grade teacher at Tewksbury’s Sawmill Elementary School, which closed when TES opened in 2005.

“She had such a love of nature’s grand scheme as well as the tiniest details of a pinecone or butterfly,” said Jones. “She encouraged a creativity based on nature in all of us who were lucky enough to be her students. Plus she had a smile and twinkling eyes that lit up the room.”

Jones found inspiration at home as well as school. 

“My father, Winthrop H. Jones, was an architect and painter who constantly framed the world for me,” said Jones. “He taught me to see details and graphic forms without my ever really knowing what was happening. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I realized that I had a natural sense of composition and a need to capture the way I saw the world.”

After Sawmill School, Jones attended Far Hills Country Day School, Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., for high school, Sweet Briar College in Virginia and then George Washington University in Washington, D.C., from which she received a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in art history in 1971. Jones also received an honorary master’s degree in photography from Brooks Institute of Photography.

Tewksbury Township native Alison M. Jones became a conservation photographer in 1985 after a visit to Kenya where she saw the plight of protected areas and wildlife first hand.

Cameras As Tools For Conservation

“As a student from the 60’s, I grew up thinking we could each make a difference in this world,” said Jones. “So I have always tried to make the corners of the world where I am a bit better for having been there. The International League of Conservation Photography, of which I am a fellow, has been recently formed to support those of us who feel that our planet is in crisis and that we can use our cameras as tools of conservation.”

Jones, who has traveled since childhood and into her adult life to more than 50 countries, became a conservation photographer in 1985 after a visit to Kenya during which she saw the plight of protected areas and wildlife first hand. 

She says the photo which cemented her choice to pursue conservation photography was a picture she took in 1987 of two cheetahs sitting side by side, gazing away from her lens out onto the plains.

“It made me think of the author Saint-Exupery’s comment that, ‘Love does not consist in how you look at each other, but instead, how you gaze out upon the world together,” said Jones. “That one image connotes the connections of existence – connections between wildlife, ecosystems and cultures and between us as individuals. That is what my photography is about.”

In addition to documenting conservation through her photography, Jones has taken on an active role in affecting positive change by founding a non-profit organization called No Water No Life. Since 2006, she has paired her photography talents with science to raise public awareness of the vulnerability of freshwater resources.

“If There Is No Water, There Is No Life”

“I was a co-pilot flying and photographing from a low-flying Cessna over nine sub-Saharan African countries,” said Jones.  “I kept looking down from my right-hand seat and realizing that there was no life to be found beyond the rivers and lakeshores. It is very obvious flying over Africa: if there is no water there is no life. Then it became obvious that the lack of clean, fresh water in Africa could be a precursor to what the rest of the world could soon be facing.”

“Since awareness is the first step towards correcting any problem, I have dedicated myself to using the power of photography, combined with science and stakeholder knowledge, to help raise international awareness of global threats to our vital freshwater resources,” said Jones. 

No Water No Life studies six watersheds: three in Africa and three in North America, including the Raritan River Basin locally.

“The Raritan was the first North American watershed we chose, because it is my watershed,” said Jones. “Because it is the largest drainage in the country’s most densely populated state, it is a good illustration of problems faced by urban watersheds. The Lower Raritan has been rated as the nation’s 11th most polluted river, and the state has the largest amount of impervious surface coverage per resident in the nation. The Upper Raritan faces challenges of maintaining open space and quality of the headwaters that supply millions downstream. It needs to control an excessive deer population that is seriously reducing forest renewal and therefore water retention.”

The five other watersheds which No Water No Life studies are the Mississippi River Basin, the Columbia from British Columbia to Oregon, the Nile River, the Omo River in Ethiopia and Kenya, and the Mara River in Kenya and Tanzania.

“No Water No Life’s six case-study watersheds illustrate universal issues threatening freshwater availability and quality that need to be addressed worldwide,” said Jones. “No Water No Life has conducted 8 expeditions to its case-study watersheds thus far, accumulating compelling images that tell three stories: the value of our watersheds, the threats they face, and solutions being proposed or enacted by concerned stewards and scientists. We have interviewed and filmed over 100 stakeholders and stewards, compiling ‘Voices on the Rivers’ that tell the story of watershed conservation in this decade. The next major expedition is planned for this September to cover the length of the Mara River [in Kenya], pending funding to cover the expenses.”

Jones says the mission of No Water No Life is to document, educate and foster partnerships.  As such, her participation in Friday’s Arbor Day assembly is very close to her heart as well as her home.

“No Water No Life is committed to creating a curriculum that will join students upstream and downstream as advocates for the protection of their watersheds,” said Jones. “[No Water No Life] hopes to educate both adults and today’s youth about the vulnerability of our watersheds, our abuse of our watersheds and the need to correct current conditions. Education is the first step to solutions.”

Further information about No Water No Life is available at www.nowater-nolife.org. Alison Jones Photography can be seen on www.alisonjonesphoto.com.

This article is reprinted from the Hunterdon Review, Wednesday, April 22, 2009, front page.