Nigel P. Kent
There are places that should never be destroyed. There are places that have too much history, too much ecological diversity, too much semblance of primal wilderness that, in all accounts, we will harm ourselves if they are lost. Sometimes, money acts as blinders to true wealth, to the actual significance of a place that may be confused as ‘real estate.’ But there are people, many people actually, who look past the profit margin per acre and, using a more holistic approach, perceive places as reservoirs, as troves of natural and cultural wealth. And when a group of people determine that they must preserve these places publicly using a tool kit of financial and legal strategies, they form a Land trust. There are 1600 land trusts across the United States, preserving roughly 6.2 million acres of land in response to the unprecedented rate of deforestation and ‘exurban’ sprawl. Within our stomping grounds alone, we can boast of two prominent organizations; the Genesee and Finger Lakes Land Trust. Together, both have preserved 15,330 acres of magnificent places, now and forever preserved for us and our descendents. I find great comfort in the fact that, someday, my future grandchild(ren) will be able to listen to the elusive wood thrush sing mysteriously through the arching red maple canopy of the Reed Road Bird Preserve, a place that often solicit for my wilderness fixes.
However, in order for a land trust to effectively preserve hundreds of acres, staunch advertising and public outreach strategies must be developed in order to catch the attention, and more importantly, donations of individuals and organizations who also share strong inclinations to preserve the land. If you have or ever have the chance to visit the websites of our local land trusts, you might notice an apparent similarity – vivid photographs, and many of them too. In order to covey the value of particular places to the largely non-active public, someone ties the laces to their well-worn hiking boots and explores every acre with a camera in hand in order to bring place to the people. This is Nigel Kent, a well-esteemed photographer for the Genesee Land Trust, the Finger Lakes Land Trust, and every now and then, the Nature Conservancy. I found him through his photography; his name is attributed to his photographs on the Genesee Land Trust website, and after a phone book and a phone call, the man was sitting in folding camp chair next to me, explaining how his photographic talents became intertwined with land preservation. “Going back about ten years, I was working for Lauers in Pittsford, a furniture company,” Nigel explained to me. “The owner of the company was a firm believer in me and my photography….and let me use the Pittsford Place Mall to display some of my photographs, so I put a bunch of big enlargements up, wild land scenes. One day, someone from the Genesee Land Trust walked through and they contacted me, asking ‘would you like to take pictures for us?’ and I said, ‘sure’. I had never done anything like that before.” Although he had never taking pictures for a land trust before, he was certainly well acquainted with photography. Ever since he was fourteen, he always had a camera in hand, and between stacks of photography books and thousands of rolls of film, he is now, as his work evidences, a self-taught expert. But unlike most photographers, his intent is not economic gain; it is passion. And when the Genesee Land Trust called him up one day to hire him as a photographer, he directed his passion to this preservation effort. “I guess subconsciously, I was really just looking for a way to give something back. These places exist because of places like the Genesee Land Trust that make it happen. They don’t just talk about it, they protect. [These places] a thousand years from now will still be protected, one would hope. They wanted to know what I would charge, I said ‘nothing’, and I still haven’t charged them a dime in ten years….They can do all the leg work and the financials and all that; all I want to do is go out and take pictures….I believe that somebody’s got to do it.” Undoubtedly, for a Land Trust to succeed, someone has to take the pictures, and the Genesee Land Trust must feel incredibly fortunate to have Nigel promoting their cause. If you have a few moments to look through his photography, you will understand.
However, photography is much more than having a camera in hand and clicking the shutter release. Anyone can drive down the road, stop to snap a few photos out of the window, and continue driving. Sure, if you had better equipment and a broader knowledge of photography, you could make an every-day scene seem pleasant, but that is not Nigel’s goal. Nigel seeks places that people do not see on their drive to work, places that people will never see in their lifetime, or places that may have never seen people for that matter. “I tend to get into places that are more remote and more difficult to get at that than most people would do when they drive by and walk around. I really get in there. I see scenes that people just don’t know exist. And through my eyes and through my lens, the people get to see that might toss a dime in the hat, and it goes on. That is my part in it.” By crawling through thick, shirt- tearing brush and wading down meandering creeks, Nigel strives to capture the essence of each place through the lens in hope that someone may find his discoveries emotionally provocative. There are few people who can devote hours to wanderlust curiosity, poking a camera into the depths of a flower or capturing the ethereal motions of water. This takes time that most people do not have, and photographs can efficaciously present a place without necessitating physical presence. Appreciation can be elicited with or without the three mile hike (although the three mile hike may make the scene more rewarding).
To capture the attention of an audience, Nigel’s photos must transcend the mundane, to capture a scene and a mood that engulfs the viewer with beauty and emotion. To do this, he must be free from anthropogenic distraction. “I am solo,” Nigel asserted. “People sometime want to come along with me to see this and that. And I take them. But I can’t be me when somebody is with me. I feel that I am boring people. I might circle that tree for twenty minutes; I know there is something there. There’s intuition involved, I can feel something, and I want to know what it is. If I spend long enough circling the tree or the rock, I will find it.” And, judging by the visceral response that I encounter through his photography, he finds it quite often. However, Nigel’s curiosity and the camera are inextricable, the camera accentuating volition to look at things closer, to gravitate towards incredible detail. “[The camera] is definitely a catalyst. I would not be going down, looking down inside a foxglove without a camera…. I can’t see the details the lens sees….I am learning all the time, looking at [a flower] this close, it’s like a microscope. I have fun doing that.” Speaking from shared experience, the camera facilitates a profound desire to look at a landscape differently, to explore individual parts in depth while also capturing the whole, creating a holistic perspective of a living place. Photography creates a stronger relationship with the environment, evoking tenfold more appreciation for the subtle beauties that we can’t see or take for granted. Poke your camera into a wildflower sometime, you will understand.
Through Nigel’s photography, land preservation is not just about laws, fundraising, and number crunching; it is about preserving the intrinsic qualities of wild, open places that many people need, but just can’t find. Nigel gives it to them with an open heart, and it is apparent that his passion exudes inspiration to all those who are fortunate enough to discover his work. I know I am taking a closer look at the land around me. You may feel the same way too.
“I am really looking for the emotion when I see it…other people tell me that they can feel the emotion, which means that I succeeded.”
To view more of Nigel’s photography, please visit: