‘I bought a forest,’ NatGeo photographer tells Morristown audience

National National Geographic photographer Charlie Hamilton James speaks at MPAC. Photo by Nicole Verduin photographer Charlie Hamilton speaks at MPAC. Photo by Nicole Verduin
National Geographic photographer Charlie Hamilton James speaks at MPAC. Photo by Nicole Verduin
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By Nicole Verduin

Award-winning National Geographic photojournalist Charlie Hamilton James went to the Amazon a few years ago to report about conservation efforts.

While there, “I bought an illegal cocaine plantation by mistake,” he told about 1,000 listeners Wednesday at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.

The 100-acre tract sat on the border of Manu National Park in Peru, and was sold to curb illegal logging of the park’s forests. Being on the front lines of the war against conservation prompted Hamilton James to look at the issue from both sides.

“I went on a journey across the Amazon,” Hamilton James said. “I went to live with people of all different walks of life, of all different cultures, mainly to understand how they saw the Amazon. What was the Amazon to them?”

He lived with illegal loggers, outlaw gold miners, cattle ranchers, and several “uncontacted” tribes in the rainforest.

Hamilton James showed pictures and video clips of these groups interacting with the rainforest, as well as the extreme conditions and survival struggles that lead to the destruction of Manu.

“I learned one very simple thing,” he said of his travels. “I learned that conservation is a very bourgeois concept.”

These travels, including Hamilton James’ misadventures with the coca plantation and his journey across the Amazon, were featured in the June 2016 issue of National Geographic and in a three-part BBC series.

Wednesday’s talk at MPAC marked the fifth in the Earth Day lecture series sponsored by BASF.

Hamilton James is renowned for his use of special photography gear. He spoke about the use of the camera trap, which involves hiding a camera in an animal’s direct habitat, and taking pictures from a remote location, often with the help of infrared sensors.

Hamilton James used these traps in his work at Yellowstone National Park to capture up-close photos of deer, bears, and mountain lions.

He hopes that his magnificent photos of wildlife and people interacting with stunning landscapes will make viewers more inclined to care not only about conservation of nature, but also about humankind.

“We can all be a bit nicer to each other, and we can all care a little more about our fellow human beings,” Hamilton James said to end the presentation.

“If we did that, we would not only go a long way to solving some of the world’s most important environmental problems, but we would also make the world a better place, and a nicer place to live in.”

Correspondent Nicole Verduin is a junior at Drew University.

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