A Return to Nature

Ian Shive’s work has taken him around the world, but he’s best known for his incredible images of America’s public lands.

It seems only fitting that award-winning nature photographer Ian Shive can trace his photographic start to time he spent in Montana and Yellowstone Park back in the mid-1990s. Originally from New Jersey, Shive wanted to share his experience out West with friends back home, but didn’t feel his early photos of the place were doing it justice. “So I began, without even knowing it, trying to create images that really captured what I was feeling when I was living there,” he says. And like that, he began developing the skills that would lead to a career photographing and filming our wildest places.

While Shive’s work has taken him around the world, he’s best known for capturing America’s public lands, beginning with our national parks. After he came out with a book on the National Park System, the US Fish and Wildlife Service reached out to him to see if he might be interested in creating a similar body of work around America’s lesser-known public lands network, the National Wildlife Refuge System. Eight years and 45 refuges later, Shive is about to publish his latest book, Refuge: America’s Wildest Places.

“I got to see everything from the farthest-flung parts of our refuge system, like the coral atolls of the Pacific and the tiny ragged islands of Alaska, all the way to the refuges that are close to cities like Denver, Philadelphia, and New Orleans,” he says of the project.

Shive’s experience on the Midway Atoll in the North Pacific in particular stands out to him. There, with flights departing only every two weeks, he had time to slow down and observe intimate moments on the island. “Midway was just a life-changing experience,” he adds. “It’s so unlike anything I had ever experienced.” His photographs of the islands are transporting, as are so many of his images of our refuges and the wildlife that make their home within them.

Initially, Shive envisioned Refuge as a way to raise awareness about one of the largest protected land and water systems in the world, and as a tool to connect people to places and animals they may not know much about. But the political landscape in this country changed as he was working on the project, and with it, the protections afforded many of these remote outposts have eroded. Which is why he also hopes the book will allow readers “to make informed decisions about what we want this country to be known for.”

Now that we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, the potential impact of the book has evolved even further. As he says, “We have an opportunity, I think, amidst all this tragedy, to return to nature and reassess and revalue what is important in our lives, and what we really need.”

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