Smithsonian Magazine Highlights Vital Impacts Environmental Grant Winners

Smithsonian Magazine Highlights Vital Impacts Environmental Grant Winners

Writer Alex Chun of the Smithsonian Magazine featured the work of Vital Impacts Environmental Photography Grant winners in a new  article entitled, “These Stunning Photography Projects Tell Stories of Conservation: A new grant from Vital Impacts funds long-term efforts to document environmental solutions in the photographers’ own communities.” Chun spoke with our winners, highlighting the projects they are working on and emphasizing how their cultures and communities have continuously guided and shaped their art. 

One of our two winners, Musuk Nolte, is a Salish photojournalist who began working at a Peruvian newspaper when he was just a teenager. In speaking with Smithsonian magazine, Nolte explained that his art has become “increasingly focused on topics concerning human rights, Indigenous cultures and, more recently, water issues.” 

The queñual plant is present in many of Nolte’s works and is part of ancestral water harvesting practices in Peru. High in the Andes Mountains, the queñual plant has had to adapt to the cold atmosphere, making it ideal for water filtration and storing, oxygen producing, and erosion prevention in high-altitude regions. Nolte’s photographs show that the planting of this shrub is not just an ancient practice - at the Queñual Festival Cusco communities plant 150,000 new shrubs in one day. 

“I am interested in photography as a tool for generating discourse and constructing narratives,” Nolte told Smithsonian. “These stories enable us to bring other realities closer, often complex and critical ones. The role of photography and documentary work, in my view, is to bridge these realities with knowledge, providing context and direction.” 

Our second winner, Tailyr Irvine, is a Kootenai photojournalist based in Montana who began her career set on confronting common misconceptions of Native America. “It was always stereotypes and poverty porn, and for me growing up, that’s not really what it looked like,” Irvine expressed. “I got into journalism to tell the stories that people don’t know.”

Irvine plans to use the funding from the Vital Impacts grant to document and draw attention to the Land Back movement - a call for public lands once taken illegally from Native Americans to be returned to their respective tribal nations. She plans to focus on efforts to restore the bison population in America as well, exploring how wildlife can flourish when the land is in the hands of indigenous peoples. 

David Barreda, senior National Geographic editor, is quoted in the article. “Irvine and Nolte’s personal connections to their sources and their stories foster trust and enable them to delve deep into the lived realities of the people they photograph.” Barreda conveyed his excitement to see the stories Irvine and Nolte will tell, saying “their upcoming work funded by the grant can deconstruct stereotypes and build an appreciation for diverse cultures." 

To read the full article, visit the Smithsonian Magazine