Publishing Photo Books for Conservation with Helen Cherullo of Braided River
This publishing house doesn't call it done when a book hits the shelves. For Braided River, that's only the beginning of using the power of photography books to inspire change and protect wild spaces. Learn how they're using books as the launching-off point of new conservation campaigns.
Of all the books that fill my book shelves, and there are many, there is one particular imprint that really stands out that is Braided River. That's because Braided River creates books that are all based in conservation.
Whether it's wildlife conservation or wild spaces conservation, everything that they put out is not only a beautiful visual story, but has a really strong message of conservation. Braided River doesn't just stop when the book is published. The book is the start of what will also be a campaign that includes gallery exhibits, traveling exhibits, speaking events, all kinds of campaigns that will hopefully create necessary change, policy change or behavior change around the conservation issue that the book discusses.
And today we get to have the Executive Director of Braided River come talk with us on the podcast!
Helen Cherullo founded Braided River, the imprint of Mountaineers, while she was the publisher of Mountaineers. She has 20 long years of experience there, and now she has pivoted to give a 100% of her energy as the Executive Director of Braided River.
She knows what she is doing when it comes to creating books that have conservation impact. She is full of knowledge and insights, and it is such a joy to get to understand what the book publishing journey looks like, not only from the perspective of building a book, but also of building a book that becomes the springboard of something bigger.
It's a amazing conversation, and if you have any interest at all in creating a book around a conservation visual storytelling project that you're working on, then this is the episode for you.
Episode 088: Publishing Photo Books for Conservation with Helen Cherullo of Braided River
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
Of all the books that fill my book shelves, and there are many, there is one particular imprint that really stands out that is Braided River, and that's because Braided River creates books that are all based in conservation. Whether it's wildlife conservation or wild spaces conservation, everything that they put out is not only a beautiful visual story, but has a really strong message of conservation. And not a lot of publishers focus so specifically on not just creating something that is gorgeous and that people want to buy and flip through, but something that actually acts as a springboard for a long-term conservation campaign. 'Cause see, Braided River doesn't just stop when the book is published, the book is the start of what will also be a campaign that includes gallery exhibits, travelling exhibits, speaking events, all kinds of campaigns that will hopefully create necessary change, policy change or behavior change around the conservation issue that the book discusses.
0:01:06.0 JH: It's something that is pretty unique. And today we get to have the Executive Director of Braided River come talk with us on the podcast. Helen Cherullo founded Braided River, the imprint of mountaineers, while she was the publisher of Mountaineers. She has 20 long years of experience there, and now she has pivoted to give a 100% of her energy as the Executive Director of Braided River. She knows what she is doing when it comes to creating books that have conservation impact. She is full of knowledge and insights, and it is such a joy to get to understand what the book publishing journey looks like, not only from the perspective of building a book, but also of building a book that becomes the springboard of something bigger. It's a amazing conversation, and if you have any interest at all in creating a book around a conservation visual storytelling project that you're working on, then this is the episode for you. Let's dive in.
0:02:12.9 JH: Welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business to marketing, and everything in between, this podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in. Helen, welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. It is an absolute joy and honor to get to talk with you today.
0:02:50.4 Helen Cherullo: Well, I am so grateful that you asked me to join you, Jaymi. I look forward to our conversation. We have a lot of shared interests.
0:02:57.8 JH: Definitely, definitely. The books from Mountaineers and the imprint, Braided River, they are filling my bookshelf. You've created so many books that are really, really meaningful to me. And when I say it's an honor to be able to talk to you, I'm not exaggerating or being mushy, like you've really been at the home of a publishing house that I think is huge on the conservation, visual storytelling front. And I can't wait to dive into... I have so many questions for you, so many questions.
0:03:25.0 HC: Let's jump in.
0:03:26.2 JH: Okay. Well, I'm gonna start with the hardest one first. Which is, Helen, for anyone who doesn't know about you, Who is Helen in this world?
0:03:34.9 HC: That is an interesting first question. It took me back a little bit because so much of the work that we do in publishing really is about others, and I think that's a great deal of the pleasure in this work, is that it's not me, it's not the same group of people, it's always someone different and it's a different author, a different photographer. To answer your question, it feels like the work that I'm doing now is really the culmination of a lot of different paths in my life, and each one of those things has, I think, strengthened or reinforced where I seem to find myself today. I started out with interests in the natural world as a child growing up living next to a forest preserve and having just the remarkable opportunity to be in the woods all day long, be in a virgin prairie, being next to a river. So that was very much a part of who I was. And this is interesting in some ways because it was the suburb of Chicago. And in many ways, I feel like my life growing up was incredibly rural because of the place that we lived, next to a forest reserve. I was always interested in... And in photography as an art, and in journalism as a way to express the world around me, storytelling. I had a level books from a very young age, and just loved to explore different worlds through literature and the arts and books.
0:05:10.8 HC: I have a degree in Journalism with a major in fine art, and my focus was on editorial work that was also illuminated by visual assets like photography. So I came into publishing really not having a plan to be in book publishing, but just having opportunities in front of me that kind of led the way. It became a path of sorts, so the expression of all of those things then through the publishing process really galvanized where I am today, which is the focus on making sure that the things that I can do well in convening authors and photographers to tell their stories are well placed within our ecosystem, recognizing that there is a part that we play as publishers, but it's really through these collaborations, that we're able to elevate the work to end up making consequential change in the world. And I think that's where I see myself today now many decades into my career, as wanting to make sure that anything that we do is consequential.
0:06:30.7 JH: Oh, that's a really powerful thing to think about, a mission to have, is that you know that whatever it is that you're gonna be putting out in the world, that it's really going make a strong impact and make a difference really. And I'm curious, is that... So just to back up a little bit kind of career-wise, you were the publisher at Mountaineers up until last year, in 2020, where you transitioned to really focus full-time as the Executive Director of Braided River. Braided River is the conservation imprint of Mountaineers. Was that mission that everything needs to be consequential, was that part of that transition as well?
0:07:07.7 HC: I was the publisher for 20 years. And at the 20-year mark, I thought, I really love what I'm doing, I could continue doing this, but for a number of reasons, I think it would be great for me to think about alternatives. Part of that was thinking after 20 years, it would be lovely for this company to have another voice leading the operation, and we were really fortunate to have someone who was well-placed, where I felt he was ready, and I thought that he could really make some consequential contributions to the organization. And then I also felt that the work that I was doing personally was leading me specifically towards things that I'm strongest with, and there was enough velocity with that work that I felt like I was short-changing it, I'd really needed to give it more attention. So I felt like I was in this really great place of feeling good about where I was with my career, loving what I was doing, feeling like there was a succession plan in place that would ensure that the Mountaineers books would be in great hands after my time, but still being able to stay connected with it through the work that I'm doing with Braided River, and then being able to concentrate on that work in ways that I felt really was important at the time, because there's just so much at stake right now, and to not do everything that we possibly can be doing would be a disservice to the work that needs to be done.
0:08:42.1 JH: So what does Braided Rivers do, what is Braided Rivers?
0:08:47.2 HC: We start out with a book and then elevate that into a comprehensive conservation campaign with partnerships to drive consequential actions and public policy. It starts with a book because in many ways, that's what I do, and the book really becomes that iconic cultural piece from which everything else springs. The books are the result of working with photographers and authors that have spent years, decades, sometimes their entire life working on the particular issue or topic that we are about to publish, and their work really deserves to have that kind of sort of official formalizing in the way that only books can. There's always podcasts and websites and short-form journalism and events and exhibits, and all of those are really important components in how we communicate, but a book is a little bit different, in that if you kind of look back on someone's life, and if they've published a book, it's always mentioned within the first paragraph of their remembrance, of their obituary, they created this book.
0:10:12.1 HC: It's just a formal thing in our culture that has consequence. The thing that's great about the book also is that there's a formal way that they come into the world, which is to say that when a book is published, it becomes a media event. And so the book in and of itself is out there, but then there's also the media that happens around it, there's the exhibits that we pull together that use the book as kind of a platform for that, we're also doing websites and media, we're working in conjunction with partners producing an IMAX film right now. So it's really the baseline content and storytelling from which everything else can spring so that we can communicate the truth and the issues about what we're involved with in so many different ways. So we're not just talking about the people that are already in the know and in the environmental community but really trying to reach out beyond that to appreciate that we need to have more of a cultural velocity toward getting people involved with these issues, and that's what really great images and story telling can do, it's not being judgmental, it's not preaching, it's exciting people about the world around them and pointing out some of the things that are happening that could be jeopardizing that world. And then the natural thing that happens is people wanna know what they can do, how they can make a difference, how they can become a part of this.
0:11:45.0 HC: So Braided River really is... Someone just told me that I was a convener, and I kind of laughed. But in many ways, that is one of our strengths, is that we produce this story, we produce these themes and these ideas about wild places, about the life that lives there, the wildlife, the people, and that really becomes the story that everyone can share, so that if someone from an environmental organization is talking with a member of Congress, they can be talking about something that's happening in that moment where they want a certain kind of support, but they can give them the book to say, "This is the reason why this is so important." And if we've done a good job with our books, our books will last for years because they're not about a particular moment in time, they are a biography of a place, and that is really the driving issue that helps to explain why these things are important.
0:12:52.8 JH: There's a book right behind you that I think is the perfect example of what you just said, which is Amy Gulick's The Salmon Way, which is the second... She started with Salmon in the Trees, and then now there's a Salmon Way, and that book came out two years ago or so, but still even just a month or two ago, there was a Zoom event, and there's... It's like always moving forward, and I feel like that's such a great example of this long-term campaign on an issue. What has The Salmon Way and Salmon in the Trees been like as a conservation campaign for Braided River?
0:13:25.2 HC: Working with Amy Gulick has been thrilling. She's one of the most strategic artists that I have ever encountered, and we're fortunate to work with many of them who are, but she definitely from the very beginning, with this work, wanted to make sure that there was going to be some kind of a reason behind it, and that we were able to tee things up ahead of time to make sure that the work that we were doing would resonate with the campaigns that were possible. And you mentioned Salmon in the Trees, that probably has been more like 10 years since we published it. That is still a viable project because we took a look at it in terms of how can we take a look at what we think is probably going to be some of the threats that will be impacting, in this case, the Tongass rainforest, and how can we best position the work to describe, in so many different ways, why this place and the people are so special?
0:14:25.5 HC: So whether the threat is from industrial tourism or from forestry, from clearcutting, from mining, from climate change, from overfishing, from pollution, no matter what the issue is, that we would have this book that would be a testimonial to why this place should not be squandered, should not be thought of as a resource, but should be thought of, as Amy puts it, What is our relationship to salmon? And just to kind of take the story out of the context of some kind of convoluted, often inaccurate, economic discussion to the bedrock of, Do we wanna be, in Alaska, known as the oil state, or do we wanna be known as the Salmon state? And having and working with her, we have done some amazing things. We have an exhibit at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. It's a permanent exhibit.
0:15:26.0 HC: We were able to do events in Washington DC with our really terrific partners who are on the ground with public policy, everyone from Salmon State to the Alaska Wilderness League, to [0:15:42.1] ____, to many organizations that are really keeping their finger on the pulse of what's happening politically, and knowing when it is that we'll be able to help them with telling the story why. The books have been given to members of Congress, they have been given to members of the Wild Salmon Caucus of both parties, Republican and Democrat. And so this was an example of setting things up, so that we would be able to deploy the themes and the images and the stories, and importantly, the photographer. Amy does, as you mentioned, podcasts. We're opening an exhibit of her work at the Seattle Aquarium that's based upon these books. So it has longevity. Unfortunately, it has longevity, because it has to. There's always a threat until these places are permanently protected, and permanent protection, right now, is very, very hard to achieve. It's politics, but it's also marketplace, so we know that there's things that we can do in the political sphere, but also, What can we do in terms of talking with companies and banks and insurance companies and people that are running tourism, just how can this work in the broadest sense, ensure that these wild places remain intact?
0:17:05.2 JH: I feel like one of the most essential things that Braided River does almost is like this highlight. It's got pros and cons, but as this big highlight of what Braided River does is you don't just work with photographers who are excited about the pictures that they've taken and they want it beautifully packaged and get that out there as a product to sell, you work specifically with photographers who are on a mission for the conservation issues that are close to their heart, and... So that's a big pro, because to be able to work with such mission-driven people is pretty extraordinary. But as a con, I can only imagine how difficult it must feel often knowing what a sisyphean task it can sometimes be to have that consequential impact. And one of the books that I absolutely love from Braided River is the Caribou Rainforest. Caribou Rainforest, it is such an inspiring book because of the campaign that is behind it, and the sheer heart that is behind it. Would you mind talking about that, and the photographer, David Moskowitz?
0:18:10.0 HC: Yes. David Moskowitz is an extraordinary talent. He is a professional wildlife tracker, which I think adds a whole element to some of the approach that he takes to his work, a photographer, a beautiful writer. We spent hours talking about how we could tell this story of the Caribou Rainforest and the state of the Caribou, which is in serious, serious decline, and do so in a way that would be authentically hopeful, many hours talking about this. When David came to me with this project, I've lived in the Pacific Northwest for over four decades. I didn't know that there was a temperate rainforest in Eastern Washington, Idaho, British Columbia. I had no idea that this rainforest existed, and I had no idea that there were caribou that live there. As you've suggested they are extremely endangered. I think that there were nine of them left in Washington state when we started the book, and there are none now. There are still some in Canada.
0:19:26.0 HC: But the story needed to be told, either as a remembrance of what we lost or as a way to point out what still exists and what still can be saved if we're willing to do something about it now. And that was the tack that we chose to go on, because we know what the threats are, we know what the consequences can be, we know what the solutions are, and that's the good news. So as long as you know that there is something that still can be done and that there are still elements of this remarkable ecosystem that can be preserved, then that's worth the fight, because otherwise you're telling a story about a decline, and it's such a disservice to the life that is unfortunately squandered. So that was also, I think, aided by the partners that we were working with. As you suggested, David had made wonderful connections, really powerful connections, with conservation groups and native communities about how this work could help to make a difference. And as you know, he also was involved with a film on the Caribou Rainforest.
0:20:39.6 HC: So there was a real community around this that we're contributing everything that they could based upon their abilities to carry the story forward and to use it as a tool that would be cautionary as well as inspiring. And that's why we came up with the subtitle, "From heartbreak to hope," and felt like that really was the ground that we were walking on. But the good news is that things can change, and I think that stories like this, especially incredibly sorrowful ones like this one, can galvanize people to make sure that it doesn't happen again.
0:21:23.1 JH: Yes, what were some of the big challenges with working on this particular book, knowing that... It's kind of one thing to go into a book project knowing, "Hey, we have the possibility of having this huge impact, there's so much energy and hope," and with this one, it was kind of like, "We might have some impact, but we don't know what it is. This is a pretty dire situation." What was it like going into this book project with that on your shoulders?
0:21:50.4 HC: In many ways, all of the books have that element to them to one degree or another, whether it's a wildlife quarter that's being fractured, or the Arctic refuge with drilling that would interrupt millennias' work of caribou migrating and the fracturing that would happen with the indigenous people that depend upon the caribou or the salmon in Bristol Bay, or now the most recent book that we came out with Orca with Lynda Mapes, and of course, there's 74, I think, orcas that are... Of the Southern residents that are in Puget Sound right now. So all of these have a sense of urgency, but I think that probably the distinction for me is, I'm finding it really hard to look at beautiful natural history film work that tells us a really inspiring, beautiful story of life, but that at the end of the program, talks about all of the threats and then just leaves you feeling hopeless and powerless to this extent that it's almost hard to watch them anymore, because you know that at the end of this program in the last three minutes, you're gonna hear something horrible about something that's threatening this remarkable life and this remarkable balance in nature.
0:23:10.4 HC: And so we've taken the tack that we aren't going to just put the problem out there. We wanna be part of the solution. And we realize that the fight is not something that's going to take a couple of weeks to fix. Some of these things won't be affected during our lifetime. And then the climate crisis on top of it is just almost too overwhelming to conceive of. And yet the work is important, as testimony and as inspiration. And I think as long as we feel like we're in that space where we're part of a community that is trying to do something about it, that's how I wanna spend my time.
0:23:49.7 JH: So a photographer like David comes to you and says, "I'm working on this project and I really do see a path forward inside of this, I think a book, and I think working specifically with Braided River on a book plus campaign, is the way to go." When you're taking pitches like that, or you're hearing that, what are the things that need to resonate or sing for you before you can say, "Yep, that's something that we'll take on"?
0:24:16.5 HC: I think that if someone comes to me and they are looking to do a book that's a celebration of landscape or that is educational, that's a really worthy thing to want to do, but that wouldn't be a good fit for us in and of itself. The commitment of the photographer to the work is paramount to me because it's really the opportunity to see what can happen as a result of this. I've been working with Amy Gulick for over a decade, I've been working with Subhankar Banerjee for 20 years, I've been working with Dave Showalter around his second book.
0:24:55.3 HC: There needs to be that shared commitment that this is for the long-term, and there are other things going on in our lives. So we need to be able to realistically assess how much of this can we do together. The book is only the beginning, that is absolutely clear. And if there can be some kind of a shared commitment around that, that's important. I've also been working with Florian Schulz on a number of projects over the years, and he has committed his life's work to conservation photography of consequence, through books, through events, through the work that he's doing with National Geographic, through IMAX films. There really needs to be that deep, deep commitment, and it's a lot to ask of anyone. No one gets wealthy off this work. So there are sacrifices that happen, economically and even with personal lives. If you're working in the field on these projects, that's not a two-week assignment, it's multiple years usually, in order to really do a good job of telling the story.
0:26:03.1 HC: So if someone, I think, is as crazy as I am, that's a good start. [laughter] 'Cause it's like one of our funders introduced himself and me as the patron saint of lost causes, he was joking, of course, because he is even more convinced that this work is important and will lead to good outcomes. Certainly, if we don't do it, we know what the consequences will be. So that if someone is looking to build their portfolio, I'm not a good partner with that. Or if someone is looking at it as kind of a visual feast, I'm not a good partner for that. I think that those projects are worthy, absolutely, and I certainly love to see beauty, and it doesn't need to be encumbered with some kind of a commitment, but the projects that work well with us are the ones that have that as a baseline, where this is... Someone has recognized that this is their contribution that their life is providing to the world. It's also great if the photographers and most of them, well they all have, that I've been able to work with, have forged relationships with the people of these lands, because that's a huge part of the story, the communities that exist and the nuanced, complicated challenges that that brings up.
0:27:26.8 HC: We don't see anything as kind of a really cut and dried issue, they're all incredibly complex, and some of the solutions truly are almost insurmountable when you look at them on the surface. And yet if you don't start somewhere, it will be intractable. So the relationships that the photographers and the authors have formed working in these communities and working on the land and just being a part of the conversations and the ecosystems and the complexities are really important.
0:28:01.4 HC: I'm probably not a good fit for someone who is trying to find something to do. I've talked with a number of photographers who have said, "I really wanna do something consequential, and I'm not really sure what that is." I can talk with them about the process, but I can't really be the best person to take them on that path. I think that there are others who are probably in that mentoring position to be able to see talent and see commitment, and then nurture it. Projects that we're working on are a little bit further down the line, where someone has found their purpose, and then together we can take a look at what their goals are, and also to find out if there's some kind of a way or path in to make a difference. So is there a public policy that is on the table? Our politicians teed up so that there are some bills or some kind of legislation possible. Are there conservation groups that are working on these issues in concert with funders who are strategically taking a look at what the best opportunities are?
0:29:14.5 HC: So we don't dictate any of that. It's not our area of expertise. But the relationships that we have with the non-profit organizations who really have their fingers on the pulse of the issues and talking with our elected officials about what the appetite might be in terms of congressional action or laws or legislation, and usually that deals with public lands, because as Americans, we all own our public lands and we have a voice in what happens to them. So generally, public lands have a good fit with us because of that opportunity, which is not to say that we don't work on other lands that are kind of more complicated, where it might be a combination of public land and private land and land in the United States, but that also impacts what's happening up in Canada or down in Mexico.
0:30:14.8 HC: So that tends to be a good fit for us. And so in talking with a photographer, just making that clear about just where we have our strengths and where we might be able to be a good partner with their work and their ambition. We work in Western North America because that's where the largest tracks of public land that are wild are, and it's where we have our relationships with the media and with donations and donors, with foundations, with organizations that are working on the ground, and those relationships have been developed over many years, which is not to say that we wouldn't love to do things in other parts of the country or other parts of the world, but it would take quite a bit to scale up to do the work effectively, and so that we specialize in Western North America as our landscape. So that would be another thing that would be kind of a differentiator for our work.
0:31:16.9 JH: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Frankly, Braided River being so very specialized in a certain area of the world, it's almost like an inspiration to other publishing houses to also be that specialized, because that is where the most consequential actions can come from, is when you are truly zeroed in and you have a complex web of networking in an area rather than a spray and pray technique for conservation effort. It really does matter if you are so driven to have work that is consequential, as you say, being specialized is so important. When you have a photographer come to you with this idea and you're like, "Yes, we're a perfect match, let's get going on this," and they dive into the book creation process, what does that part look like? And how also... I know that this is two-parter and I apologize, but also how does the idea of really wanting to have a book have impact affect the image selection side of things?
0:32:18.1 HC: Really good questions. I'd probably back up a little bit to say that another thing that we look for is that the project has not been completely baked. So if someone comes to us with a completely finished book with all the images chosen and the themes identified, that generally is not a good fit because there is a process that we go through where we want to identify what are the qualities of this issue or this place that are going to bring it to life, not only in ways that people might be already aware, but in surprising ways, because that is the element that will draw attention from the media, and even from people who have been working on these issues for years, where they'll take a look at a story that we're telling or a series of images and say, "I had no idea that that was there. I had no idea that existed. I've never seen it put quite that way." Because that kind of creativity and enjoyment and beauty is what takes people to a place of reverie, which I think is what we're trying to achieve with all of the work that we're doing.
0:33:36.6 HC: 'Cause that is a place of vulnerability, where people do reflect consequences of their decisions and actions. We're trying to get to that place. So when the photographers come to us pretty much anymore, they're still involved with field work, so it's not even that they have their bank of images ready to go. So we can talk about what's going to be necessary for the story to be told in the richest way possible. And it also involves fundraising, because a lot of the work that is being done is going to take time and the travel is expensive. We look for donor partners who are also involved with this to help with that in two ways: One financially, but one as strategic partners. Because the funders are really on the front lines of understanding what's being done, who's doing it, who are the effective non-profit organizations working on it, who are the writers and the media that have been helpful in this realm, and what is the public policy landscape likely to look like two years from now, three years from now, five years from now, seven years from now, so that we can make sure that the images and storytelling are really set up to best represent that?
0:34:55.4 HC: So the photographers are often still needing to do field work. And then once that field work is done, their whole question becomes, "Well, what about the writing? Is the photographer going to be the author?" It's unusual for that to happen. Although, as you know, we've had several of the photographers either contribute essays to a book or write the book: Amy Gulick, Dave Showalter, David Moskowitz, all beautiful writers. In some cases, we'll want there to be more of a community of writers around the book. And so we'll have someone talking about the biology, someone talking about the history, someone talking about the geology. We'll have representatives from the tribes that live in the area telling the story of the land through their experience and voice. It could be a birding expert like David Allen Sibley, or we were fortunate enough to work with Peter Madison on his experiences with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, just finding those voices that are authentic to the region and that can bring the story to life in a lot of different ways.
0:36:05.2 HC: So that's an element of it. And then you hit on something that not many people ask me about, and it's actually my favorite thing, and that is the photo editing. I love to photo edit these books, and it takes me a long time, but I'll immerse myself in this because when people go through a book, or an exhibit, or are doing a slideshow, or seeing a film, they have a visual experience, and they can go through the book page by page, they're not stopping to look at captions, they're not stopping to look at maps or read any of the texts, they're just going through, and I've often seen people do it, an entire book page by page because visually, they're being let on a journey, and that journey can take many different forms, but it needs to suggest the broad expanse of why this topic is even being put before them.
0:37:05.4 HC: So for me, finding those images and partnering them on a spread, and then turning the page and what you see next is really important to me. And I know that oftentimes the only experience people will have with our book is looking at the photos. Some people will go through again and read the captions. Other people will go through and read the essays. Some people will read it cover to cover, certainly the media and the critics do. And everything that we do is intentionally put together carefully to make sure that that story is being told in the most truthful and compelling fashion possible. We're interested in the largest photo spreads, as well as the smallest caption or footnote. But that visual storytelling is what really sets these Braided River projects apart, because it doesn't matter what part of the world you come from, what language you speak, what your experiences have been, these images are beautiful and they tell stories, and at our essence, that's what really sets us apart as a species on this planet. So for me, that's a really important component, and it gives me a lot of pleasure.
0:38:26.9 JH: Wonderful. In the books that you have done the photo editing with, What are some of the books that have just stood out to you as like, Oh man, if I were gonna redo that book, I'd do it in a heartbeat, 'cause it was just such a joy to visually go through that experience? I know it's probably asking you to choose your favorite child.
0:38:45.1 HC: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I could make a case for each one of the books, and I think that's probably... It's a real privilege to feel that way and for different reasons, and... But I think that also over time, I've become more confident in that process, so it's almost like the next book is the one that I'm really concentrating on just to kind of hone those skills and also to realize that we have a book, but then we can amplify that, as I mentioned, with media and websites and podcasts and exhibits, so there's always ways to continue to tell that story, and then just learning too from what happens when the books get out there and people see them, what is it that really resonates with them?
0:39:32.7 HC: I remember when we did our book, Yellowstone to Yukon: Freedom to roam with Florian Schultz, and this was when wildlife corridors were first being described and mentioned. A fairly new concept, not in the scientific community, but it was beginning to get into the conversation about public lands, because there was so much development going on, and all of the sudden there was a realization that, Hey, we've got some wild islands here, but the areas around them are eroding because of the development and the idea of the corridor became something that we could use as a galvanizing principle for protecting some of these wild spaces inbetween the protected spaces. But the surprise to me in some ways was how, with Florian's incredibly beautiful images, the thing that often riveted people's attention in the book, in the media, and at events was a little video clip that he did of a rancher, Karl Rappold in Montana, he was a fourth generation rancher. And you would just see the image that Florian took of him, and he just looked quintessential Western cowboy, and just the sincerity in his eyes just staring at you and then hearing his voice, talk about how his family had basically done some harm in terms of the wildlife there, particularly with grizzly bears, and how he had made a commitment to live with them as a rancher.
0:41:13.2 HC: And for people to see a rancher talking about conserving and caring for grizzly bears rather than trying to exterminate them, really touched people deeply, because it wasn't then a conservationist coming in and saying, these animals are so incredible, How could you possibly think about anything other than celebrating their life? This was a man who his family had lived and had a livelihood on this land for generations, who was basically kind of contravening the myth that you can't do both. So you never know where these surprising connections are going to come from that will be the catalyst for people to change their perspective on why preserving, protecting the natural world has value.
0:42:04.0 JH: That's such a beautiful story. I kinda got little goosebumps when you quoted him because those stories from people who are in the mix of a conservation effort, I think those are the ones that resonate and touch most deeply. No matter who you are as a listener, when it genuinely comes from someone who is in the mix, and you know that it's honest and true, that really makes a difference. I'm curious because we've kind of talked through a bit of the process of starting to work with a photographer and what that's like in the book building, and then you've talked about how the real energy and effort comes after the book is out and there are exhibits and talks and media events, and I'm wondering about the impact of COVID and how that has... Has it caused you to shift things or how has that maybe had an impact on the conservation efforts that Braided River does alongside book releases?
0:42:57.8 HC: Yeah, that's a good observation, because COVID really has changed the world as we know it, and there's no end of in sight. We have been really fortunate in that we were able to pivot quite quickly to online with our events and outreach, and so the events that we used to do in person then became something that we did via Zoom. And there are, as you know, inadequacies with that. There's nothing like an in-person event to create energy, particularly for the presenter. Also just the experience of seeing slides or film work on a big screen is very visceral. As you know, the experience looking at videos or images in a Zoom room can be a disaster, and we're still kind of acting many times like we're talking to a space station when we're communicating in that way. But on the other hand, we're in this sort of shared place together where we've been limited by what we can do with the outside world anymore, so we've been doing Zoom events. And the advantage to that is that people have been hungry for connection, and so we've been able to play a role in continuing that sense of community.
0:44:21.4 HC: The other plus has been that when we do an event, we often have people from around the country, around the world, and so to know that you're doing something and have someone coming in from Australia is pretty thrilling. And that really wasn't anything that we were thinking about in the past. So I think if there is a future where we can continue to convene together safely, and I believe that there will be, I think that we'll continue to do something along a hybrid where we'll use the tools of technology to also be able to have these opportunities for presentations and discussions and Q&A in a virtual way.
0:45:03.4 HC: So there's no doubt that it has absolutely had an impact, but the world carries on, public policy is carrying on, politics is carrying on, and we, through books and events and supporting our partners, have been able to continue on making an impact whatever way we can. I think that's the adaptability of these resources as well, that images and storytelling are incredibly adaptable, whether it's in a classroom or dealing with... Providing help to attorneys doing legal proceedings or whatever it is, we can adapt through the tools that technology brings to us. But I know that our authors and photographers has said it's really hard to do these presentations where you're just talking to a screen, because you're not getting any feedback. So I think that it's changed sort of the temperature of some of these presentations because it lacks that personal connection that we all benefit from, I think.
0:46:14.2 JH: Yeah, well said, I really appreciate that even through what has been a very tumultuous 18 months, sure to be two years, possibly much longer than that, depending, that you and the team at Braided River, the team at Mountaineers Books have never slowed down. You are just going full force, and there are so many ecosystems and species and communities who are really dependent on the work that you're doing, and I appreciate so much the energy that you put into everything that you do at this publishing house. I think that the perspective that you have on, "We don't just create books, we create books that are a foundation for campaigns that have consequence," is so inspiring and so important and refreshing, to be honest. So thank you so much for everything that you do.
0:47:05.9 HC: Thank you for your interest. And every time that I have an opportunity to talk about this, it reminds me of just how really committed this entire community is to work and how each one of us plays a role, and that without each other, the work really would not have the power that it does. And that's a bit of the symbolism behind the logo of Braided River, which is all of these kind of separate but interconnected and moving forces that are creating this consequential change in a time when it's desperately needed. So thank you for your interest.
0:47:43.6 JH: Absolutely. If anyone wants to find out more about Braided River, buy the books, potentially have a conversation with you about a project that they may be working on in the Western US, how will they find you?
0:47:56.3 HC: A good place to start would be our website, braidedriver.org. There's information there about past projects and links to some of the work in media that we're involved with, and there's contact information for me as well. And I'd be glad to talk to people about how they would see themselves in this universe where it really takes all of us to make a difference.
0:48:21.4 JH: Wonderful. Well, thank you, Helen, and thank you again for being on the podcast with us.
0:48:26.4 HC: Thanks for your interest. This has been fun.