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When I watched Joe Riis scale two thousand feet up a nearly vertical mountain face to place a camera in a narrow break that served as a highway for mountain goats and grizzly bears and Mike Ready zip up his dry-suit and slip under the clear waters of Elk Creek to photograph elusive Cutthroat trout, I was hooked.

“Flathead Wild” was a low-budget documentary about the Flathead River Basin I saw at a local environmental film festival when I was 12-years-old.

Every day I find new things that inspire me. Being a photographer, I am constantly looking to see what others are doing in order to find new ways of looking at everyday situations. Photography is such a big part of my life and this is the one film I keep going back to as a major influence in my love of taking pictures.

The film’s subject initially drew me in: the Flathead River, which runs through Canada and the Northwestern corner of Montana. It is an area that is one of the most beautiful in the world. The film was urging viewers to see the beauty in the area and be motivated to protect it. It showed the destructive habits of the natural gas and coal operations working in the area that cut off mountain tops and dumped chemicals into rivers chock full of endangered Cutthroat trout.

The film was seen through the eyes of the RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) who frequently go into areas to capture the beauty in order to protect it.

I was hooked on the purpose that these people were bringing to their photographs. Their photography attached me to the landscape. Made me care about it.  Made me want to protect it.  Over the course of that 15-minute film, I completely understood the meaning of a photograph and why a picture really is worth a thousand words.

I have not been caught without a camera in my hand since seeing that film. “Flathead Wild” taught me so much more than the meaning of a photograph. I learned why it is important to protect the world we live in and why I should care about the environment. And how such a simple device, when coupled with passion and creativity,  can save a species. Save an ecosystem.

I will visit the Flathead and the areas that surround it to see it for myself. It is on my bucket list and I will bring my camera along. I know that when I do, it will take me back to those courageous, compassionate photographers who showed a 12-year-old what it really means to participate in something greater than himself.