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Episode #107

Living with Scientists In the Arctic and Making Immersive Photo Stories with Lianna Nixon


UPDATED: May 25, 2023
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON October 18, 2022


From working with scientists in the polar Arctic to Indigenous families in the desert Southwest, Lianna Nixon keeps one thing at the center of her storytelling: her characters are always brought into the creative process. Here's why this approach is the secret to making unique, impactful, and immersive visual stories.


In conservation photography, the imagery itself is just one part of the work that we really do.

It's step one. Step two is putting that imagery to work for the conservation causes that we care about.

I have such a thing for creative ways of visual storytelling that draw people in and allow them to have an immersive, amazing experience. It helps go beyond being *told* a conservation message, and instead experiencing why that conservation message is important and internalizing it. 

This is something conservation visual storyteller Lianna Nixon has become an expert at. 

As a photographer, filmmaker, and educator, Lianna explores using all kinds of different storytelling and technology tools to build experiences around climate change.

She brings together activism, identity development, learning outcomes, and more to build projects that will, frankly, kind of blow your mind.

You're sure to walk away with a wealth of creative inspiration for your next visual story project.


You'll Learn:

  • Leanna's recent creative projects, including being part of the MOSAiC expedition
  • Important ways of thinking about how we approach the projects and also the people that we work with
  • Thinking about your subjects as collaborators in the storytelling process
  • Ethically telling the stories of communities that aren't your ow


Resources Mentioned

Episode 107: Living with Scientists In the Arctic and Making Immersive Photo Stories with Lianna Nixon

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/107

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
[00:00:00] Jaymi: 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.

[00:00:26] Jaymi: Let's dive in.

[00:00:35] Jaymi: Hey there. And thank you so much for tuning into this episode of impact the conservation photography podcast. Now inside of conservation photography, the imagery itself that we create is just one part of the work that we really do. It's like, step one, and then we need to go. That imagery to work for the conservation causes that we care about.

[00:00:59] Jaymi: That's really at [00:01:00] the heart of what we do in conservation photography. And you likely know by now that I have such a thing for creative ways of doing visual storytelling that draws people in and allows them to have this really immersive, amazing experience so that they're not. Hearing the conservation message, but they're really absorbed in it.

[00:01:21] Jaymi: They're experiencing the conservation message and that's really a powerful way to get people involved in the story. And then importantly, acting for the conservation issue that you're illustrating. My guest today is doing exactly this in so many exciting, amazing ways. Leanna Nixon is a professional conservation photo.

[00:01:45] Jaymi: Filmmaker and an educator. And she has an amazing interest in using all kinds of different storytelling and technology tools to build experiences around climate change, the [00:02:00] polar regions and all kinds of other stories that have to do with conservation, making a conservation impact. So she brings together activism, identity development, learning outcomes, and all kinds of other things.

[00:02:14] Jaymi: Build projects that will frankly kind of blow your mind. So in today's interview, Leanna talks about several of her projects that are going to really inspire your creativity for what you do with your images. After you've created them a. As well as just some really important ways of thinking about how we approach the projects and also the people that we work with inside of the projects, from thinking about your subjects as really collaborators in the storytelling process, to telling the stories of communities that aren't your own and how you think about your approach to make sure that you're doing a really excellent and ethical job of that.

[00:02:55] Jaymi: There is so much in this interview. So without further ado, let's jump right in. [00:03:00] All right. Leanna Nixon. Thank you so much for joining me today on impact the conservation photography podcast. You are working on projects that I'm so amazed by, and you have a focus in your work that just sings to my heart.

[00:03:17] Jaymi: And so I'm really excited to sit down and talk with you today about all of your work and your career in conservation, visual storytelling.

[00:03:24] Lianna: Ah, well, thank you so much, Jamie, for having me it I'm so excited to be here.

[00:03:30] Jaymi: wonderful. Well, I gave a very short little snippet about you, but for anyone who's not familiar with you and your work yet, who is Leanna in the world?

[00:03:41] Lianna: Yeah, that's a great question. I'm still figuring that out, but for right now, I am a conservation photographer and filmmaker, and I also am a climate science educator, and I work for a research institution called series at the university, Colorado, Boulder. Awesome.

[00:03:59] Jaymi: Well, and [00:04:00] that's really at the heart of, I think what excites me most about your work is, and I'm just gonna go ahead and read this sentence directly from your.

[00:04:07] Jaymi: You say, I am interested in interdisciplinary program design around storytelling technologies, activism, identity development, and learning outcomes around natural sciences. Like all of that just makes me really, really excited, but let's dive into what all of these components are. What does that sentence mean to you when it comes to your work?

[00:04:29] Lianna: Yeah. So when I was coming up as a photographer and filmmaker, I didn't wanna just take like very pretty pictures or beautiful visuals. I wanted it to have substance and. My background in education really helped me think about that and being like, okay, well, what, what is this substance that's important that connects people with nature.

[00:04:52] Lianna: And I found that these elements like storytelling technologies, so the media formats that we use, how we engage the perspectives, [00:05:00] um, the voice that is needed using activism and multi perspectives to really just create these counternarratives, to tell different stories about things. That we may actually not know about other things that are around civil action, always creating a story with a purpose.

[00:05:21] Lianna: These are kind of the things and elements that I think create compelling stories that not only just show us the splendor and spectacular things about nature wildlife, but also just give us a more well-rounded perspective and not make us feel like. We're helpless or can't be connected to a place, even if we'll never see it in our lives.

[00:05:44] Lianna: Mm-hmm . I think

[00:05:45] Jaymi: that that's really at the heart of like what conservation photography is, is this balance of creating a sense of awe and inspiration in people, but also providing a call to action. You know? Yeah. Not pretending like all is well, [00:06:00] not pretending like, oh, all is lost, but here's, what's going on.

[00:06:04] Jaymi: Here's, what's amazing about it. Here's what you can do. All of that stuff. A couple of things that I was curious about that you can help define is when you say counter narrative, can you talk a little bit more about what that means? .

[00:06:18] Lianna: Yeah. So counter narrative essentially is that we have a lot of mainstream narratives and they often come from places where people are privileged, where there are, you know, most of the storytellers that are famous are white and male mm-hmm

[00:06:35] Lianna: Um, counter narrative is a way to bring out, um, people whose identities are different people whose identities. Are part of a different side of a narrative as well. It might be like contrasting against versus four or something like that. And these counternarratives are important because they're bringing voices that are not often heard to the center stage.

[00:06:59] Jaymi: [00:07:00] What do you think is the overall kind of impact that you're seeing by bringing counter narratives to center stage when it comes to. Conservation activism.

[00:07:11] Lianna: I could just speak firsthand from a group of young women that I worked with in Boulder, Colorado. For a long time, I worked for this organization called speak and it is about having women learn vocal empowerment skills to do civic action around the.

[00:07:30] Lianna: And climate change in particular for that was their focus and a lot of women's rights, as well as, um, climate change are actually have heavily intertwined. So for bringing their voices in talking about these connections, there's this really great book called a Dr. Paul Hawkins drawdown. And he does like global climate models to show like how much carbon can be se sequestered from the atmosphere.

[00:07:58] Lianna: Based on [00:08:00] what solutions we currently have and combining women's education and women heading family planning, if combined together are some of the most effective ways in sequestering, carbon, out of our atmosphere, just because women can manage themselves and their bodies. Right. So that was like an issue that we talked about a lot and being able to have young women.

[00:08:26] Lianna: Actually voice something that is about them. And that is important to them, I think was really impactful. It brought us all the way up to boulders city council to look at different things. They have done exhibits and performed like theater, activism, kind of performances all over Boulder. And I think it was a very impactful program for them as well.

[00:08:49] Lianna: It. It's building leadership. So those are the kinds of stories where we have counternarratives of people that, you know, are a big part of [00:09:00] that story that aren't often heard, but it is so empowering for them. And so empowering for our communities.

[00:09:05] Jaymi: Mm-hmm one of the things I. Love about kind of hearing that is how much it reminds us of interconnectivity and it's cuz we, we do, especially like when we're coming from a nature perspective or like a wi we have a love of wildlife and then that brings us into conservation.

[00:09:21] Jaymi: We can kind of forget that ultimately conservation stories are human stories and it's human behavior. Driving the need for conservation activism in the first place. And so do think of things that like, we, we forget are so interlinked, like women's reproductive rights and carbon sequestration. like these things can, can be really intertwined.

[00:09:40] Jaymi: I think that's incredible. And when you mentioned technologies for storytelling, for visual storytelling, tell me a little bit more about like, what that means.

[00:09:53] Lianna: Yeah. So I have been exploring the world, like, you know, I started off with [00:10:00] photography and I also do art as well. And so they're like very like, still moments that you can capture, which, you know, um, a picture's worth a thousand words, right.

[00:10:08] Lianna: That like that's cliche, but it's so true when you capture those moments, they can hold so much emotion and you can really study it and understand, you know, what's happening there. And then it kind of evolved into film, 2d film, just. At first, it was just doing stuff of wildlife, trying to figure out what I'm doing.

[00:10:27] Lianna: Got a little better at it. And then now I'm really interested in a VR and using VR for education, not just doing the typical tours or whatever, but being able to have it kind of like a scavenger hunt, having you to have a purpose or a drive in order to like, look at something more actively and with the technology that we now have, we can.

[00:10:53] Lianna: Turn this passive kind of engagement into something that's more active and fulfilling and more [00:11:00] purposeful and maybe geared towards an action item or something.

[00:11:04] Jaymi: Ah, that's so exciting. I've been enamored with immersive storytelling platforms. They are still 2d, but I think that the way that you can lay out a website or have people navigate, that can be incredibly powerful and I've been digging more into it, like to the point where I'm now learning HTML and CSS and JavaScript and things to try and build like cool websites.

[00:11:28] Jaymi: But then you get into the world. 3d and virtual reality, which is really becoming more and more of a common thing, like a household thing. Have you actually created anything yet that has to do with a more active version of virtual reality storytelling

[00:11:45] Lianna: in a, in an extent. So I actually directed filmed.

[00:11:51] Lianna: Co-created a planetarium film that you can actually see it's right now playing in Boulder, Colorado, but you can also see it in other [00:12:00] places. We also have it on YouTube so that you can drag around, even though that's like still the 2d kind of space. But, um, this 360 planetarium film is about the mosaic expedition and it's called drifting north the Arctic pulse.

[00:12:15] Lianna: And so we followed a team. International scientists from over 20 different nations who went to the central Arctic and froze ship into the sea ice. And they essentially drifted with the sea ice for an entire year to understand the Arctic that we're seeing today. And so this planetarium was a really unique space to.

[00:12:39] Lianna: Essentially bring people to the Arctic to show them what science looks like out there. You know, what it takes to get a number. That's something that my friend and cocreative director Amy Lauren would ask because it's insane what scientists have to do out there to just one. Stay warm and alive [00:13:00] and , you know, not get in by polar bears and, and two to actually collect the data that they're, um, that they're looking for, whether that's during polar day and you've got very dynamic ice, that's moving all around you or polar night where you can't see past your head lamp.

[00:13:16] Lianna: So. This planetarium, we designed to follow the scientists and also the work that they do and the experiences that they're having really trying to bring this human element into the Arctic, even though it is very fascinating to see sea ice moving and all this stuff, it's really about the people of this expedition who are being driven to.

[00:13:40] Lianna: Record these numbers to see these observations, which could help us understand the Arctic and its changes that we're seeing. It's one of the most rapidly changing regions on our planet and what this means, cuz we're definitely seeing a new face of the Arctic and there's a [00:14:00] lot that we still need to know and learn about it.

[00:14:03] Jaymi: What has been the reaction that you've seen from people watching this or taking part in this planetarium experience? So

[00:14:12] Lianna: thank you for asking that question, cuz it's a very exciting question, cuz there's different ways that you can look at it and different people that are part of it. So I'm not like we'll talk about the team that created this first.

[00:14:25] Lianna: So it was like a coalition between the scientist, Dr. Matthew shup and he's like the co-coordinator of mosaic. This was his baby 10 years in the making and he partnered up with series. To create this film and this planetarium and through, and then Amy and I were hired to make this and she made one about polar night and I made one about polar day in the full year.

[00:14:49] Lianna: Because I was on for the end six months of the expedition and it was so cool to see how the story changed when [00:15:00] we first were brainstorming ideas up until its final product and what we really wanted accomplish for people to, for what reactions and engagement that we wanted them to have. And really the main one was just.

[00:15:15] Lianna: Taken the splendor of the Arctic to really see what it's like to just be in the middle of this ocean with sea ice and all the tiny little delicate balances that create the Arctic, whether it's just like the little change in the atmosphere, which might change the surface of the sea ice and you know, the ocean underneath and how that all supports life.

[00:15:38] Lianna: Another one was while I was out there recording and filming interviews and collecting all this content that I needed. I was working a lot with the scientists and I was actually nervous at first because. I'm just some like filmmaker, that's going out there being like, Hey, you wanna take a moment? from your like, field work for a [00:16:00] second.

[00:16:00] Lianna: And tell me what you're doing. You know, like that's intrusive and that's not what they're out there to do. They're not out there to be communicators first, then scientists. The way that I was able to work with many of these scientists and approach them to also invite them to collaborate for content creation.

[00:16:18] Lianna: Like we used still images to fill up the planetarium in one of the scenes. And that's not all me that's data that they decided to send me or photos of like little tiny Copa pods, which are these small little critters that are all around our oceans, stuff like that. And. They wanted to do it. They wanted to be part of it.

[00:16:39] Lianna: And they were excited about it because I think the perspective that we came at being like, this is a story for you about you, that we wanna work with you. And I think that was a really transformative experience for a lot of them, because it was just a different way to approach media and they were not used to that.

[00:16:59] Lianna: Kind of [00:17:00] non journalist kind of way of looking at it. So that was fun.

[00:17:04] Jaymi: Yeah, that's really, I mean, I just to pause for a second, that is such an amazing kind of perspective to remind everyone to have is the idea that we get nervous because we want scientists to be able to be scientists first and communicate or second, but then they're also human beings.

[00:17:21] Jaymi: And so coming into the whole collaborative process, Thank you so much for talking about that, cuz it was really awesome. Your, your experience. Okay, so sorry I interrupted you now for, for that too. Oh .

[00:17:33] Lianna: Oh no. It's okay. I mean like, I, it is important. Like I came about it in like a joyful way. I wanted to show the joy and like I think.

[00:17:42] Lianna: That was such a relief for so many people, you know, especially when it comes to topics about the Arctic, because it could be so polarizing and yeah, it's just, it could be a pretty heavy topic to handle. And as a scientist, you have to play like the non-biased like scientist role, but [00:18:00] you're also a human in it.

[00:18:01] Lianna: And so. There are some complexities and maybe conflictions, like on how you go about communicating about the Arctic. Yeah. Okay. And then part two, uh, thinking about the people when we were actually finalizing this final product and getting classrooms in there, our big push first was. Actually have kids in classrooms from the Boulder district, as well as I think some from Denver to actually come in and watch this film.

[00:18:34] Lianna: And we also created a curriculum that could support teachers if they wanted to do something before or after the film. You know, in their classrooms so that it comes a little bit more full circle. We also had a couple of just like installations at the planetarium to kind of help engage people. So one of them was like an ice bucket challenge.

[00:18:55] Lianna: That's what we call it. and part of the Arctic field science [00:19:00] safety training you have to do is you have to stick your hands in cold ice water, and then you have to tie knots afterwards because you have to be prepared. To understand how to do those little intricate things with cold hands. And that is something that the scientist did and experienced a lot, especially in polar night in winter.

[00:19:20] Lianna: And it's negative 45 out. Plus your wind chill. And you gotta take off your gloves to maybe like move a wire or tie something. That's gonna be really hard. So pairing the planetarium and doing an activity like that was actually really exciting for a lot of the students. That was one of their favorite activities out of some of the others we made.

[00:19:42] Lianna: And it really solidified the experiences scientists went through. To go out there and do that. We've also had great feedback just about being in the planetarium itself and taking in the spending imagery. We did tons of time lapses. We sped up and slowed down. Did some [00:20:00] time mapping of Arctic landscapes.

[00:20:02] Lianna: We. Did things from like a really close perspective where you can see ice kind of like growing or a platelet ice kind of moving up from the surface of the ocean. And it's really thin. And it looks like you just cut pieces of snowflakes and it's very delicate and you can hear like it crackling kind of like rice crispies or pop rocks.

[00:20:22] Lianna: And those kinds of little immersive moments were also, you know, we had great feedback on. With scientists, you've got a lot of gear and there were all sorts of studies that were happening, whether it's about the atmosphere, the sea ice, the ocean or biology in itself. And so with all that gear, you can't explain it all but you know, you could show it, you could see how they're studying it.

[00:20:48] Lianna: And so other things that I did is that I took. Giant man, boob pole that they have out there. Cuz usually they use them in the ice for like roadways there's places where you're [00:21:00] not allowed to walk on the sea ice when you're out there because it's being studied. And so I took it and then I took a selfie stick and I taped it and tied it a whole bunch of times around it.

[00:21:11] Lianna: and then I put my little Insta 360 1 X camera on it and I would stick it down an ice core hole or I would stick it. Just like the ROV, which is our, it's a remote operating vehicle that does a lot of different studies under water. It has a little place where you can launch it from the surface of the ice down to the ocean.

[00:21:32] Lianna: I would just stick it down there and you could see the instrument in action under water. And that was really cool to show. It actually became a research tool within itself. So I was able to help scientists. They would be like, Hey, you know, we wanna find some Meira to like dig up, which is like this Copa biology that lives in the Arctic during certain periods of time.

[00:21:55] Lianna: It, it attaches itself onto the sea. And so they [00:22:00] would be like, can you stick the camera down the core hole so that we could see, you know, if there's me that's around and I would do that, or, you know, to check on an instrument, you could just stick the camera down there. And it was so helpful and it was really cool because it was just a really interesting way to see how media is actually a tool for science.

[00:22:24] Jaymi: oh, it's very meta.

[00:22:26] Lianna: Yeah. it, is it, it, it just kind of keeps rabbit hole down within each other and it, yeah, it was just all, it was so cool to have all of that material to have all that collaboration finally built into something that people engaged with and really enjoyed. And that was just the main goal was to throughout the start to end process people really wanting to be part of.

[00:22:53] Lianna: And re and people enjoying it.

[00:22:56] Jaymi: Yeah. What an incredible project to have [00:23:00] created. How did you get hired for that?

[00:23:03] Lianna: So I was in grad school. I was doing my master's in education at CU Boulder. That's how I know series and work for them today. And a friend of mine who's in the theater department. Her name is Sarah fami, sent me an email about series, wanting to hire somebody, um, particularly a graduate student that was interested in journalism or media to take like a photo.

[00:23:28] Lianna: That was the original AppD was just like a photo a day. And I'm like do this. And I go to the interview and I built a deck. I really wanted to do it. And I had been to the Arctic before. So I made this presentation. Even though I really didn't need to. And I had all my pretty Arctic pictures, like my portfolio of the Arctic and somehow got this.

[00:23:53] Lianna: And I think it was cuz I was from more the photography side. Whereas Amy's more the film side and she dives [00:24:00] deep into animation and film. I will learn a lot from her. Then all of a sudden it changed to a plantarium film, or maybe I just didn't read the media brief. Right. But , you know, it was a, a lot that was like a really big learning curve for me and experience and made me fall in love with using VR technologies, being able to use all sorts of different.

[00:24:25] Lianna: Editing platforms. I think it also helped with the video skills that I had and was still kind of honing in on and yeah, it, it was just wild too. to somehow get hired. And now I still work for them today kind of doing similar things and it's, it's been a lot of fun.

[00:24:45] Jaymi: That is such a great example of seeing an opportunity and really going full force with it and putting your all into it, even in the application process, like putting your all into it.

[00:24:57] Jaymi: And when you come away from that experience, what [00:25:00] it can transform into is, I mean, orders of magnitude bigger than what you might have ever expected. Well

[00:25:08] Lianna: done. Thank you. Yes. And that's like, if I can give any aspiring photographer storyteller advice, it would be, if you see an opportunity, go 110% because you have nothing to lose at that point.

[00:25:22] Lianna: And it'll only just make you better.

[00:25:24] Jaymi: Love love. Love that. Well, you okay. I, I could talk about this for like 14 days, so I promise I'm gonna try and hone it down. So inside of what you've done with mosaic, you have created this beautiful planetarium experience that hopefully listeners can. Enjoy in their own locations.

[00:25:44] Jaymi: If that ends up traveling around what is the website for the 2d kind of version that listeners could go check

[00:25:51] Lianna: out? Oh goodness. So we have one on YouTube, but if you go to [00:26:00] series.colorado.edu/outreach, that's the series education outreach page. And under our programs page, you can scroll and look around and it should have.

[00:26:11] Lianna: Something that says mosaic. Okay. Yes. It says mosaic. And you can click on that. And that is our main programs page for the mosaic expedition. And there's a bunch of links in there that are not just for the YouTube 2d versions of the plantarium films, but also other cool classroom activities. You can also go to mosaic.colorado.edu, and it should have all that too.

[00:26:40] Jaymi: Awesome. Okay. I'm gonna make sure that all of that is linked in the show notes, because I wanna go poke around and explore for sure. So you are a really talented and now very experienced photographer for polar regions, but you're also working on a project that is maybe in territory. That might be a little bit more [00:27:00] familiar to us.

[00:27:01] Jaymi: You're working on a project that is for now, at least tentatively called the three sisters. Water project. Yes. And this side of storytelling brings in whole other elements that we all as conservation visual storytellers need to be really thinking about. Can you tell us what, what this project is?

[00:27:18] Lianna: Yes. So this project is something very unofficial and.

[00:27:25] Lianna: Was just done with a really good friend of my mom's. Her name is pan Dover spike, and she is, she owns a back country, horse camping organization. And she for, I think like over 10 years has been visiting monument valley, Navajo tribal park. It's a really incredible park. So many people go there to see the red rocks and the different shapes that are.

[00:27:51] Lianna: And it's also a great place for horseback riding horseback riding in the desert is really cool. Especially if you run down sand dunes. [00:28:00] Oh wow. Yes. And so Pam, she's also part native and started working with a family out there. The Yazi family, there's only 12 families that actually live in the monument valley, Navajo tribal park.

[00:28:19] Lianna: She would just rent a corral from FY Yazi, who is an elder that lives out there. And throughout the years, they got to know each other quite well. And she's been able to learn from FY about this incredible land, which, you know, seems so much like a desert, but there's so many things that if you look closely and if you listen to nature can really find, and also throughout getting to know F E.

[00:28:48] Lianna: Learned a lot about the kind of home that she lives in her home doesn't have any electricity. It doesn't have any running water. So every single day at the inner [00:29:00] family, they have to go fetch water, not just for themselves and their own basic needs, but also for all their animals that they keep. They have a sheep herd and this sheep herd helps create wall that she uses to weave some really beautiful, beautiful rugs.

[00:29:17] Lianna: And that's actually. One of the important crafts of the Navajo nation mm-hmm . So she's now quite old and, you know, having to Lu water every single day was really difficult. And to not even have a running toilet as well, she has to walk outside of her home to go to this outhouse that her and her family have created and dug her daughter.

[00:29:44] Lianna: Has become quite concerned if she walks out there and accidentally trips and falls, like that could be something where they have to go to the hospital or something like that. So, This story is about, first of all, just getting to [00:30:00] know FY cuz she is so and her family because she's so wonderful. And her family is so wonderful and life is like living in monument valley, Navajo tribal park, and then also just a call to action to show.

[00:30:15] Lianna: Um, they have put in these water systems where they collect water in different areas. So it's not driving 24. Miles every day outside of your Homeland and the tribal park to get water. Now they can go a shorter amount of distance and go fill up at these large tanks that are collecting water. And that's been so helpful.

[00:30:40] Lianna: And also just another call to action is that we're looking to implement solar or help her with things so that she can have refrigeration for ice or something like that. Like there's no infrastructure for any of that stuff. So being able to figure out ways to support her, like with [00:31:00] those off grid kind of fridges or lighting or something like that, those kinds of things are very helpful.

[00:31:06] Jaymi: Wonderful. Well, I mean, the imagery that you've created is part of this project is absolutely gorgeous. That's just stunning visuals. And I'm gonna link directly to your project page in the show notes as well. But I'm curious when it came to creating this particular story, it, it overlaps with something that we talk about a lot in conservation, visual storytelling, which is photographing or telling stories of people or communities that are not your own.

[00:31:36] Jaymi: What was that like for you in starting to, to tell this story? Were there things that you were thinking about or, or fleshing out or questions that you asked or approaches that you took for this particular

[00:31:47] Lianna: story? Yeah, absolutely. So, first of all, I was very lucky that I went with Pam, my mom's friend, who has had this long connection with FY and they [00:32:00] were so nice and, and led us into their home.

[00:32:02] Lianna: And it, it just came from a place of love. So having that initial connection in order to get to know a community was super important. Um, but I still struggle. I mean, even today, even with content, even with what I have created so far around. Am I telling a story that is correct. or maybe not correct, but just like feels good for first of all, for Effy and her family feels good for the people that are involved in creating these places in these Springs for water collection, if it's correct, and it's not impeding on any of the.

[00:32:42] Lianna: Complexities that are within the monument valley, Navajo tribal park. That's also something that was very important. I still struggle with like being an outsider and trying to create stories with this inside perspective in how I [00:33:00] honor not just. You know the story itself, but how I honor Effie and her family and their story and their truth.

[00:33:06] Lianna: Um, how I honor people who have implemented these water systems at these Springs, how I can honor not impede on the complex narratives and relations with the monument valley, Navajo tribal park. These are things that there's not necessarily a right answer because there's always gonna be conflicting. You know, just humans have conflicts.

[00:33:35] Lianna: mm-hmm I guess. Um, that's the best way I could put it. It, it could be messy. It could be messy telling a story that is not of your community. So I really came at this story in particular, by honoring at Fe's family and you know, not, not digging into complex narratives. Within the monument [00:34:00] valley, Navajo tribal park.

[00:34:01] Lianna: It was just my goal to just show what was happening there. That story. When you visit a monument valley, I'm sure nobody sees this. You know, nobody really like gets to go into someone's home to understand, okay, this is their way of life, which is beautiful and amazing. But here are also some things that are needed and that are struggles and challenges.

[00:34:25] Lianna: So, um, by going in that way, by presenting their story with this perspective, I thought I was doing right by them and everyone else and just allowing it to be out there, you know, , mm-hmm I do plan on visiting again soon. It's also very complex with COVID and you know, just a lot that happens out there and yeah, I just it's, it's still like a growing story.

[00:34:55] Lianna: It's still in its very beginning stages. We're still trying to see how we can. [00:35:00] Best support FY and her family, how we can still present this to people in a way that is empowering, you know, not just being like, oh, look at FYS family, they're struggling. That's so sad. It's like, look at this thriving family.

[00:35:14] Lianna: That's been out there for many generations who call this land home, and there are real water issues. There's a very large amount of people in the United States without water in their homes and without clean drinkable water. And a lot of these are disparities are in communities such as indigenous nations, rural areas, places that don't have a lot of voice when it comes to water rights.

[00:35:42] Lianna: Did you

[00:35:43] Jaymi: have conversations with the family about how they were portrayed or how, how your imagery was portraying them, like during the creation process or, or did you kind of communicate with that during that process to help guide you and make sure that you weren't [00:36:00] creating sort of a romanticized version or, you know, in some way, showing a narrative that they didn't feel was accurate.

[00:36:08] Jaymi: Were there conversations that happened during that creative process?

[00:36:11] Lianna: Yes, there were, I mean, mostly in the sense of like prior to, so I only had two days to film, which was really interesting. Oh my goodness. Um, yes, it was a very short amount of time, but the first day they came and visited us at like an RV park.

[00:36:29] Lianna: That's just right outside of the community. And we just kind of talked a little bit about what's going on and all that stuff. And I have. A lot of interview material that was just me listening to their story. It's really important when you're working with communities that are not your own, that you create capacity and space.

[00:36:54] Lianna: That allow people to say their story and their truth, because especially [00:37:00] for settler United States of America and post-colonial America, we still mistreat indigenous peoples and communities. There's still a lot of justice that has not been served. So being able to just listen and be open and allow people to feel heard and authentically heard was.

[00:37:24] Lianna: one of the most important things that I think I was able to do to create a conversation and then dig deeper into a narrative that I really captured that story about water there. So that was, I think the biggest thing that I could have done and did out there, and then also showing the piece itself and being like, I'm not putting this out there until, you know, we have the.

[00:37:51] Lianna: Until it's correct until it's right. And of course, while talking to them just said, you know, and it was, of course on [00:38:00] camera. I didn't have like media waivers out there, but I do have verbal confirmation being like, okay, What you say here is of course protected. You can just come back to me at any time and say, you know what, I don't want that on, on film, or I wanna rephrase that a little bit better.

[00:38:18] Lianna: Um, those were like those kinds of moments and confirmation and consent was also super important so that I'm not just taking this content away and being like, Ooh, what can I do with it? You know, it's, it's about really empowering them, not just as the subjects, but also as co-creators as. Yeah, it

[00:38:37] Jaymi: sounds like that is a, a strong theme in your visual storytelling work is that subjects aren't subjects.

[00:38:43] Jaymi: They are collaborators in the storytelling process and that you really respect that, that everyone that you are working with inside of your climate stories or water story, whatever it may be that has to do with conservation, they're part of this [00:39:00] collaborative because they are. Also human. Every everyone is human and they're also people.

[00:39:05] Jaymi: And so to, to really make that a collaborative process, it sounds like that's something that you're really bringing into everything that you do. Is that accurate to

[00:39:11] Lianna: say, oh yeah, that's like a foundation of my storytelling. I'm very lucky that I can bring these like visuals and stories and help with that.

[00:39:20] Lianna: But it's really, I'm just kind of the vessel to, to help share that. It's not my truth, my personal truth. It's part of my truth of like, when I talk to people and share stories, but it's not, it's not about me and my work it's about them and what they're experiencing. Hmm.

[00:39:40] Jaymi: Well said, I swear I could. Talk with you for another several hours.

[00:39:48] Jaymi: There's so many questions that I have for you and your storytelling, but thank you so much for everything that you've shared about your experiences and what you've created. Hearing your [00:40:00] experiences is so helpful and guiding all of us who, who are listening in, how we create things too, and how inspiring it is to see what you're doing with what you.

[00:40:12] Jaymi: So it's not just creating images and then saying, oh, here's my website. Isn't it filled with pretty things. It's okay. What are we gonna do to put these images to work and, and the films to work and the 360 VR to work, like all of this. And what else can we build to go with it? Like curriculum? Or experiences or all these other things that help people really get to that call to action that you've planned out and created.

[00:40:37] Jaymi: You're so exciting to follow and so exciting to watch the projects that you've created so far. What might be coming up for you? Like what projects might be underway or coming in the near future that we can get excited about to see,

[00:40:54] Lianna: oh gosh. So the letters to the Arctic is a passion project I did [00:41:00] while I was out on the mosaic expedition.

[00:41:02] Lianna: And I had, I had scientists and people who support the polar research community, write letters to the Arctic, like an entity and read them out loud. And I filmed them while they were reading. And I have this short film that's English only right now, but I had people write letters in their native tongue.

[00:41:24] Lianna: There's so many ways to describe the Arctic and describe beauty that is much better in a somebody's native language than having to translate into English. So I'm working on a multilingual film. That's going to showcase those letters in those different, in those different tongues and languages. And so that's kind of in the works right now.

[00:41:49] Lianna: But for now, I'm really focusing on stuff with series. I kind of am in this like temporary living situation where I moved to Portland in a few months. So I'm trying to, I'm just trying [00:42:00] to figure out what my next steps are. But for right now with series, we've got some cool things that are coming up. Like we have some graduate students going to McMurdo station.

[00:42:10] Lianna: Who are studying space, weather with lidars. And so getting kids to, and classrooms to tune in with the at MC Meto station. And they talk about different things like space weather, and the upper atmosphere. Other than that, I still do a lot of work in Alaska and the Arctic. And so just really kind of building up my work there and we'll see what, what story comes out of there.

[00:42:39] Lianna: I'm not sure.

[00:42:40] Jaymi: Wonderful. Well, for anyone who is listening and would love to follow your work, where can they find you?

[00:42:48] Lianna: Yeah. So Instagram is. Where I am, I guess like on the social media world. And it's, my handle is just Leanna Nixon, no spaces. [00:43:00] L I a N N a, then Nixon like the president, no relation and then I have, and then I have a website which is Leanna nixon.com.

[00:43:09] Lianna: I also have the letters to the Arctic, if you wanna explore that, um, And oh my God. I forgot about another project that I'm doing, which is really cool.

[00:43:19] Jaymi: Tell us,

[00:43:20] Lianna: tell us. OK. So I'm actually working still with the mosaic team on something that we're calling the Arctic speaks to me and it's an anthology. So once again, getting collaboration and content from the polar research community, and it explores the Arctic in a fine art book, um, through the polar research community's eyes.

[00:43:41] Lianna: So we have. Poetry. We have short stories. We have personal essays, photography, art that are all coming together to really explore the transformative experiences of the people that are studying the [00:44:00] Arctic, which is just one part of the greater Arctic story and knowing of the Arctic. And this will also just be another place where people can.

[00:44:10] Lianna: Just take in the splendor of the Arctic, even in the face of its changes and hear stories that not that many people know about or can imagine or experience. So,

[00:44:22] Jaymi: oh, that sounds amazing. And when would that be out?

[00:44:27] Lianna: We're looking at spring, we're still, uh, looking for a publisher but, um, we have, I actually, the deadline was up today for submissions, so I'm very lucky to have received so many cool pieces that are just now I get to build them together, like a puzzle to see how they flow to really explore the Arctic in this way.

[00:44:50] Jaymi: Oh, man. I am so excited for that to come out. Consider me a buyer at the top of the list when, when that is ready to roll and I will make [00:45:00] sure also, um, in the show notes. So I'm linking to everything in the show notes. So for anyone listening, if you wanna be able to just click on links directly hop into the show notes, and then when that comes out, all update the show notes with a link to actually purchase as well.

[00:45:15] Jaymi: Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for all of your time today, for everything that you do, it is just, it's extraordinary. Everything that you are accomplishing, not just behind the camera, but in what you're doing with what you create after it's created, it is really, really inspiring. And I'm so grateful that you're working on behalf of conservation with everything you do, the, the just sheer creative power of you is awesome to watch.

[00:45:44] Jaymi: You are

[00:45:44] Lianna: so kind, thank you so much for having me and allowing me to share my story with others. What you do yourself with this podcast has been really powerful, not just, I mean, for your listeners, but also for us who get to come on to your show and just talk and [00:46:00] have fun, have good conversations,

[00:46:02] Jaymi: AWS.

[00:46:03] Jaymi: Well, good. It's it's always so much. So for anyone listening, hop into the show notes, link over and definitely explore some of the galleries. They are really amazing, immersive, beautiful adventures to go on with your eyes. Thanks so much.


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