Action photography from Cristina Mittermeier at the water’s edge


Cristina Mittermeier Standing at the Water’s Edge at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, Calgary on Apr 23, 2018.
© J. Ashley Nixon


Cristina Mittermeier has a fascination with water and the natural and human life that it supports. She writes about it, talks about it, and photographs it. Beautifully. While her underwater photographs of corals, schools of fish and a hoard of sea creatures are stunning, it is how she communicates about the relationships between people, nature and the challenges to sustainable development that is the most persuasive, impactful part of her brand and identity.

Her original training (she graduated from the ITESM University in Mexico with a degree in Biochemical Engineering in Marine Sciences) gave her the scientific discipline to write, research and explore the marine environment and understand the costs and benefits of aquaculture and commercial fishing. But she came around to thinking that a career as a scientist would not be enough to pursue her passion since she was a child and protect the ocean.

From working as an intern with Conservation International, Cristina progressed to leading visual communications with that Washington DC-based NGO then later co-founded her own organization, Sea Legacy with her partner, Canadian photographer Paul Nicklen.

Along the way, she also founded the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), where she was Executive Director and President until 2010. Two big milestones in a career that has focused on visual storytelling to promote action on globally important sustainability themes that include climate change, marine biodiversity protection, cultural diversity and retention, and women’s empowerment.

Standing at the Water’s Edge

Cristina Mittermeier, a National Geographic Explorer, stood and talked on stage at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, Calgary in front of a huge screen that projected her photographs and filmic messages from assignments around the world. These included stunning images from China, Madagascar, and the Amazon basin in Brazil where she was embedded with the Kayapo People living along the Xingu River in Pará State. Their traditional way of life has been impacted by the construction of the Belo Monte dam project which, although it may never be completed to full operation has significantly changed the river flow, as shown in NASA satellite images, and will have long-term environmental and social impacts. (In 2018, Brazil’s policy on building mega-dams in the Amazon basin appeared to have been reversed, although it is unclear as to the future of the Belo Monte project which was making its way towards completion by 2019.)

Climate change and a poorly looking polar bear in the Arctic

Mittermeier’s stage performance in Calgary, Standing at the Water’s Edge, brought by Arts Commons Presents also featured photographs and film clips from the Canadian Arctic. Mittermeier’s partner, Paul Nicklen, who is also a National Geographic photographer and filmmaker, lived on Baffin Island as a young boy and so intimately understands how the Inuit People’s way of life is fundamentally tied with nature. A harrowing film of a very poorly looking polar bear made by Nicklen went viral in 2017 and came under criticism from the media, notably Canada’s National Post for connecting this individual bear’s poor health with climate change.

Mittermeier responded to the criticism in an article in National Geographic in December 2017, saying “Although I cannot say with certainty that this bear was starving because of climate change, I do know for sure that polar bears rely on a platform of sea ice from which to hunt. A fast-warming Arctic means that sea ice is disappearing for extended periods of time each year. That means many bears get stranded on land, where they can’t pursue their prey, which consists of seals, walrus, and whales, so they slowly starve to death.”

She was reminded of the media backlash in the Q&A at the end of her National Geographic Live presentation when a member of the audience stood at the microphone and recounted how she had been devastated when watching the film of the starving polar bear. She asked what Cristina would change if she was to do that kind of thing again?

“We learned a lot”, said Mittermeier. “We should probably have told the whole story from the start (but) we told the story in little pieces and we didn’t really think it through. We didn’t know that it was going to go viral like that”, she explained, “but after we posted the video and photograph, the magazine (National Geographic) wrote and asked “could you give us some of the footage and we will rebrand and share on our own social media sites” The raw footage was edited and there was a comment about this polar bear being the face of climate change. “We never said that you know”, Mittermeier said on stage.

In responding to the question, Mittermeier commented that she wasn’t averted from continuing to communicate on climate change: “If I ever did it again I would probably be more careful. I would want people to talk about climate change. It became the most widely shared climate change story of 2017 so for better or for worse people were talking about the right thing.”

Mittermeier has written a new feature story that will be published by National Geographic later this year that will tell the whole story of what happened during this Sea Legacy expedition which, she emphasized, was not connected with National Geographic.

An important point to make here, one that is often mixed up in the media, is that climate change is having a systemic effect on the rate at which polar ice is receding and this change in habitat will likely influence the distribution and size of populations of species like polar bears.

Visual communications

Mittermeier writes on her website “As a community, we have not yet made the appropriate investments in communications at the same level as we have the science”.

She explored this theme further during the question session at the end of her National Geographic Live presentation: “What I realized was that the reason we are losing the (conservation) battle is that we’ve failed to invest in communications at the appropriate scale. When you look at the budgets of the big NGOs, they spend about 4 percent of their budget on communications and 90 percent of that goes towards fundraising. So the message has been completely lost.”

Sea Legacy’s story has a clear and strong positive perspective. In their mission statement, Mittermeier and Nicklen’s organization believes that “producing powerful media and art that gives people hope is imperative. Hope is empowerment. Hope is a solution. Hope is a game changer.”

Of course, hope in itself is not a strategy, but getting impactful images in front of decision-makers is a vital contributor to “spark a global conversation and the story that inspires people to act.”

Images for sustainability

Cristina Mittermeier is not a firebrand environmental campaigner. Rather, she cajoles and caresses through her ethnographic journey, using humour and hope where it fits, dropping in ideas about conservation such as “enoughness” and even an acronym, SELFIE (Someone Else is Likely Fixing It, Eh?), to make a little fun of herself as a Mexican living in Canada and using Canadian phrases and to suggest personal actions to her audience about selfishness, greed, and wastefulness.

Her performance at the Jack Singer Concert Hall worked at many levels. Yes, these are superb images, but they came packaged with stories of sustainability that made sense to children who turned up in their hundreds from schools across Calgary for the Monday morning Education Show. They also had the energy to resonate with influencers and decision-makers, consumers and community members in the audience during her matinee show on Sunday and the evening show on Monday. A visual map of sorts that hopefully encourages others to explore and find better ways to reconcile the economic, social and environmental needs that are at least enough for our planet.

Arts Commons presented National Geographic Live Standing at the Water’s Edge by Cristina Mittermeier on April 22 & 23, 2018 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

For more sustainability images please visit J. Ashley Nixon Photography

Cristina Mittermeier in conversation prior to her Standing at the Water’s Edge performance at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, Calgary on Apr 23, 2018.
© J. Ashley Nixon


Posted in #YYC, Alberta, Brazil, Calgary, Canada, Climate Action, Documentary photography, Environmental documentary photography, Films, Heritage, Photography, Social documentary photography, Sustainable Development, Water | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bella, Eva Ayllón in Calgary

Eva Ayllón wears the Peruvian flag with pride during her performance at the Bella Concert Hall, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Alberta, Canada on May 6, 2018.
© J. Ashley Nixon


It was about twenty years ago that I first saw Eva Ayllón performing in Peru. It was in a small club in the beautiful, old barrio of Barranco in Lima, a late show where she was passionately singing Afro-Peruvian music. I loved it. In later years, I would go out on a Saturday night to a peña, a club where Peruvian folk music, especially música criolla, is played and the audience join in with singing and dancing. Some of those songs sung by Eva would come up time and time again, like Esta es mi Tierra, Zamba Malato, and Toro Mata.

Time forward, another country and Eva Ayllón was performing last night at the Bella Concert Hall, Mount Royal University, in Calgary. Eva got more comfortable once she had got over some possible effects of Calgary’s place in the foothills of The Rockies (“If I faint, please take me to a chifa restaurant!”, she said, in Spanish,) and went off stage briefly to change out of her high platform shoes into some more sensible flatties that freed her up to dance some steps of festejo and even make some landó turns.

It was a fairly simple musical set-up for this stop on her tour that traverses the USA and Canada before going on to Spain. There was no brass section or bass; no (other) dancers like you would see in a Peru Negro show. But there was plenty of rich, criolla sauce in her soulful, rhythmic songs like Raices del Festejo, Saca La Mano, and Nada Soy.

Eva’s son, Carlos Yamasaki (who was inspired to play percussion by Alex Acuña, best known for his outstanding work with Weather Report) was on stage, alongside Moisés Lama (keyboards), Eddy Sanchez (guitar), Yula Pumarada (backing vocals & percussion) and Leonardo “Gigio” Parodi, playing the quintessential instrument of Afro-Peruvian music, the cajon, with gusto.

It was a beautiful show at Bella; well-appreciated by the Peruvian diaspora of Alberta who shared a red and white flag for Eva to hold in one of her songs, convey her pride of Peru and show that Peru is proud of her. Muy orgullosa!

Please visit J. Ashley Nixon Photography for more images about Peru and performance.


Posted in #YYC, Alberta, Calgary, Canada, Dance, Music, Peru, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intangible Cultural Heritage, Sustainability and a Dance from Peru: the Huaconada de Mito

A masked “huacone” dancing the Huaconada de Mito. This traditional dance from Peru was performed as part of the Stampede Prelude Party by Raices del Peru in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on April 21, 2018.
© J. Ashley Nixon

Some might think and say this is just an obscure local dance. The Huaconada is performed in Mito, located 3,286 m high up in the Andes of Peru on just the first three days of January. Mito (Spanish for myth) is a small village of about 1,500 people, 22 km NW of the city of Huancayo in Junín Region.

But factor in its listing by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) and the value and interest starts to rise.

Vulture and culture

The Huaconada de Mito is danced by masked men known as “huacones” who represent the former council of elders in the village. The carved mask worn by each huacone has a strikingly large nose representing the beak of the Andean condor, Vultur gryphus, the huge soaring vulture that was believed by the Incas to be the sun god’s messenger and continues to be seen as a symbol of power and health in many Andean cultures. There are two types of huacones stepping through the village square in Mito. In the middle of the parade are the elders who dance improvised, sometimes acrobatic steps (“escaramuza”) surrounded by the more modern dancers, wearing red, blue, or yellow tunics beneath heavy woven cloaks which they move like the wings of the condor. The huacones carry a whip (“tronador”) to convey their authority. The dance, clothing, and masks are traditionally passed on from father to son. The orchestra that accompanies the dancers includes saxophone, clarinet, violin and Andean harp plus a percussionist playing a “tinya”, a small drum of pre-Columbian origin.

Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage is often thought of as tangible objects-ancient monuments and artifacts belonging to, in the case of Peru, the Incas or their predecessors such as the Chimu, Moche and the many other cultures that make up the country’s long history of civilization. But it is far more than that, including rituals, artistic performances, traditional knowledge, and crafts. These “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants” were recognized by the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 2003.

Intangible Cultural Heritage in Peru

ICH contributes to maintaining cultural diversity, something that Peru with its hugely variable coastal, mountain and jungle environments possesses so splendidly and makes it such an attractive country to explore. Besides the Huaconada de Mito, the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity has ten other examples from Peru, including the Scissors dance (Danza de tijeras), performed in several communities in the south-central Andes. Also included in the UNESCO list is the traditional system of Corongo’s water judges. This recognizes a system of water management in the district of Corongo in northern Peru that goes back to pre-Inca times. There are other examples of ICH that might be included in the UNESCO list in the future such as the making of reed boats and their use in traditional fishing in Huanchaco, which I featured in an earlier article.

Intangible and Sustainable

The opening text of the UNESCO convention considers “the importance of the intangible cultural heritage as a mainspring of cultural diversity and a guarantee of sustainable development.”

Safeguarding ICH is critical to sustainable development and the implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) for many reasons. Deeper environmental and social understanding and sharing of that acquired, traditional knowledge across generations translates into sustainable food and water systems. ICH can support health and social care, and help to maintain respect (peace) within and across communities. Connections can be made between safeguarding ICH and biodiversity conservation, resilience in dealing with natural disasters, and the provision of local income and decent work, particularly in relation to tourism.

While the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is officially the responsibility of State Parties to the UNESCO Convention, in reality, this must be a shared responsibility. One where local conditions are good enough to educate young people and encourage them to maintain or recreate practices passed down through the generations; where companies in the tourism industry treat cultural heritage sensitively, without over-commercialization; and where natural resource companies and other economic players plan and conduct their operations without conflict to their healthy survival.

Dance steps keeping cultural heritage alive

As stated by UNESCO, “To be kept alive, intangible cultural heritage must be relevant to the community, continuously recreated and transmitted from one generation to another.” ICH cannot just be conserved or protected as that doesn’t accommodate its creative progression and timely, relevant communication. ICH has to be safeguarded.

The Huaconada de Mito is, on the one hand, just a dance: a series of physical steps played out in a colourful, entertaining performance that just happened to evolve in one, small Peruvian village. But if we see that dance as part of our deeply connected human system, as part of a process of knowledge acquisition and transmission through the generations, we can better appreciate the value that intangible cultural heritage has to offer to all of our lives in all of our communities.

Please visit J. Ashley Nixon Photography for more images about Peru, performance, and sustainability.


Posted in Dance, Documentary photography, Heritage, Peru, Photography, Social documentary photography, Sustainable Development, Travel, Travel photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Working at heights to help communicate, and develop sustainably across the World

Climbing communications technicians install the antennae on top of a tower at Westbrook Station, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
© J. Ashley Nixon

I was heading downtown for a photo assignment last week but got distracted just before I went down into the C-Train station at Westbrook, Calgary. It was one of the first fine days after our long winter, the sky was clear blue and I looked up to see a white communications tower being put into service. From ground level, I stood and appreciated the climbing skills of an agile, and brave, communications technician as he signaled up the antenna components and began to bolt them in place at the top of the 30m high tower. I got a few photographs with the lens I had in my bag but decided that I must deviate from my original plan. I went back home and returned shortly afterward with a longer lens to get a close-up view of two of his colleagues continuing their installation.

More towers

Climbing technicians are putting cell phone towers like this one into service all across the world as communications become more and more mobile. In urban areas, the density of towers has increased since each one can only handle a finite number of calls or data traffic at once. On the last check, there were in the region of 13,000 wireless antenna towers across Canada, a number that will continue to grow as we use more and smart devices.

A climbing communications technician working on top of a tower at Westbrook Station, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
© J. Ashley Nixon

Communications on the go

While many social uses of smartphones are informal and many users are tied to their mobile devices simply to chat, text, and swipe through millions of images each day, the value of mobile communications is huge in terms of supporting the sustainable development goals (SDGs). And while there will always be some contention around the location of individual towers, more thought going into their design and the use of existing structures to support the communications components can reduce their visual and aesthetic intrusion.

Mobile technology and the Sustainable Development Goals

The transition from wired telephone communications to mobile phone technology has had a transformational impact on businesses, governments and civil society around the world. As stated by the United Nations Development Program, it is “reaching across geographies, income levels, and cultures – helping to empower women, create jobs, spur financial independence, improve education, boost agriculture production, and promote better health”. The sustainable value of mobile phones has also “enabled communities to monitor elections, hold governments accountable, and save lives in natural disasters – all of which contributes toward progress on the SDGs.

Happy International Workers Day!

Please visit J. Ashley Nixon Photography for more images of working life and the sustainable development goals.

A longer distance view of communications technicians working on top of a tower at Westbrook Station, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
© J. Ashley Nixon view

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The Breadwall: ceramic mural by David Gilhooly

Part of The Breadwall, a ceramic mural created by David Gilhooly, installed in the Harry Hayes Building, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
© J. Ashley Nixon

If you live in Calgary and love to travel, you might have passed by this ceramic mural on your way to the passport office in the Harry Hayes Building. My eyes were opened up to the literal as well as the figurative meaning of this work of art on the way to renewing my own travel document recently.

The clay work, entitled The Breadwall, was created by David Gilhooly, a California-born artist who spent some time teaching ceramics at the University of Saskatchewan. It was there that he advanced his ideas in funk art to challenge the seriousness of the art world and made a parody of ancient civilizations, politics, and culture through his FrogWorld project. This irreverent amphibian planet was populated with Egyptian kings such as FrogTut, and historical figures such as FrogWashington and FrogVictoria.

The Breadwall was installed in the Harry Hayes Building in 1979. David Gilhooly died in 2013, aged 70.


Posted in #YYC, Alberta, Art & Design, Calgary, Canada, Photography, Street photography | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Speedy winger, Bryan Habana retiring from rugby

Bryan Habana scores a try against Wales in the 2016 HSBC World Rugby 7s series in Vancouver, Canada.
© J. Ashley Nixon

Speedy rugby winger Bryan Habana, who once raced a cheetah to raise awareness about the conservation of the fastest of the wild cats in South Africa has announced his retirement from top-flight rugby. He was the Springboks XV second most capped player with 124 appearances with the national team, a member of the South African World Cup-winning team in 2007 and was awarded the honour of World Player of the Year in 2007. 

He scored a record 67 tries in the 15s game with his blistering pace and picked up points in some rugby 7s games with the Blitzboks. I captured the one shown here, scored against Wales in Vancouver while photographing the 2016 HSBC World Rugby 7s series. 

It was great to see you play, Bryan. Good luck with your retirement and I hope that you find some quality time to keep on running to support wildlife and sustainability issues in South Africa!

For more rugby images please visit J. Ashley Nixon Communications

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A photo for you, Adam Herold, Humboldt Broncos

Adam Herold, Regina Pats lifts the Mac’s AAA Midget Tournament trophy at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan 1, 2018.
© J. Ashley Nixon

As parents, as hockey parents, living in Calgary, we were deeply saddened by the tragic incident involving the Humboldt Broncos team last week. As a hockey photographer, the realization that Adam Herold, the youngest of the athletes to lose his life, was featured in some of the images I made during the Mac’s AAA Midget Tournament has resonated emotionally in me over the days since that terrible bus crash on the roads of Saskatchewan.

As a family, and as a close hockey community, we have shared our emotions in numerous conversations; put our sticks out on the porch for the boys; donned our hockey sweaters to show our solidarity with those families who will continue to be affected by this tragedy for years to come. Just trying to do something and show that we care and think about you.

After careful consideration, I felt compelled to say something through my photographs and a short poem. I didn’t know Adam; rather, I learned a little about his character and his life beyond hockey; something about his progress in youth hockey. How this young defenceman had been scouted by Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League (WHL) but wanted to play a season first in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League with the Humboldt Broncos as he would get some more ice time.

Moments after the Regina Pats won the Mac’s Midget AAA tournament on New Year’s Day at the Scotiabank Saddledome, in Calgary, I went on the ice with the team, capturing their story, feeling the loud emotional release that came with their success. Adam was number ten and the player with the C on his chest. “Congratulations”, I said to him and moved along to photograph some more of his teammates and then go back to him lifting the trophy. Adam would have been celebrating his 17th birthday today.

I saw you play in 10
Skating on the ice
You should be 17 today
To celebrate your life
But the wrong kind of candles
Burn tonight

My family and I share our condolences with all of you connected through hockey, family, and friendship with these fine young athletes in the Humboldt Broncos, their coaches, driver, athletic therapist and broadcaster/statistician who passed on from life all too quickly.

More images of the Regina Pats versus Red Deer Optimist Chiefs and other games from the Mac’s AAA Midget Tournament can be seen by following this link to J. Ashley Nixon Communications



Posted in Canada, Hockey, Photography, Sports, Sports photography | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments