Nicklen and Mittermeier translate nature into photographs

One of 2022’s annual Desert Town Hall events took place on March 30. The event featured two award-winning photographers, Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier, who inspired many aspiring students that night.

Before meeting the guest speakers, the event started with a warm buffet dinner with options of chicken tenders, pizza, fries, and untouched vegetables. Ice-cold lemonade served in large, crystal water dispensers stood at the right wall. The room glowed with pleasant yellow light and soft chatter filled the room.

After most finished their satisfying meal, doors were opened to let students into a room of chairs. Everyone filed themselves into a seat, and Cristina Mittermeier was introduced to the stage.

At this time, Mittermeier couldn’t make it to California, so she spoke from Canada over a video call which appeared on two large screens — one on each side of the room.

Mittermeier grew up in Mexico, and for a long time she knew she wanted to study biology. However, her dad did not support this decision. 

“[It] was a real act of courage to go ‘no,’ I’m going to pursue what I’m passionate about,” Mittermeier said.

Fast-forward later into her life when one day, Mittermeier witnessed shrimp fishing. Horrified, she decided to take her biology studies and use them to defend the environment. She used her then-husband’s camera to show what the environment was enduring. She said it’s much easier to show a photo to people rather than explaining in words that some people might not understand. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

“When millions of people work together, we can change the world,” Mittermeier said. And with one photo at a time, she began to work her way closer to that goal.

Mittermeier started shooting photos with Instagram. Her pictures began to grow in popularity, which was just what she wanted: on spreading awareness to the environment.

“You’re trying to translate nature,” she said.

Mittermeier then introduced Paul Nicklen.

When he was new to the industry, Nicklen had no idea how competitive it would be. He hinted to someone about a walrus story he was working on. They ended up copying it, and their story got through before Nicklen’s. Nicklen had run into the “competitive wall.”

“The biggest mistake [Nicklen and I] made was being too trustworthy,” Mittermeier added.

Nicklen also talked about the emotional side of his job. He said wildlife is a beautiful thing. So when he shoots photos of something terrible happening to it, it’s heartbreaking.

“[You have to shoot, but] there’s tears behind the camera,” Nicklen said.

And after Nicklen answered student questions just like Mittermeier, they left. The doors reopened and everyone made their way back out to the buffet area. 

Along with the still-warm food, a small table presented chocolate-covered vanilla cake pops. It had an ocean theme to it to promote SeaLegacy, the environmental protection organization founded by Nicklen and Mittermeier.

After everyone had a cake pop, we retreated to the speaker’s room once again. On the screen where Mittermeier once appeared now displayed a video featuring more of Nicklen.

He spoke about the stories behind some of his work. “We have to create that personal connection,” he said.

And he did.

The photos he presented conveyed some kind of feeling, whether it be a sad one or a happy one.

Nicklen loves his job as a photographer, and so does Mittermeier. And together, with many supporters by their side, they enjoy working as the backbone of SeaLegacy.

As Nicklen said, life with purpose just tastes better.