By Rebecka Calderwood
Bruce Miller, a wildlife and conservation photographer from Montana and owner of Naturally Wild Photography, says that the beauty in readymade images comprised of mountains, animals and backcountry of the Rocky Mountains first inspired him to pursue nature photography.
But it wasn’t until he travelled to places like Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and India that he saw endangered species in their natural habitat. He says he gained a better understanding of conservation issues and became more motivated to make a difference through sharing images of wildlife in natural habitats. At the same time, Miller says it’s the indigenous and local people of these areas that need to be included in the story to be able to tell the full story.
“Without having the support of these local people, conservation efforts are doomed from the start," Miller said.
Miller is the PWB photographer selected to travel to Sri Lanka to capture the efforts of the NGO Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society this summer. SLWCS focuses on helping people, elephants and other wildlife co-exist peacefully. It pursues the strategies of field research, applied conservation and sustainable economic development to achieve its goals.
When Miller was in Rwanda and Uganda, he encountered men who used to be mountain gorilla poachers who now work as trackers and guides to protect the same gorillas they once hunted. His solo travels have aimed to capture the relationships with Indigenous Peoples, ethnic minorities and endangered species to raise awareness for important causes.
In 2014, one particular project inspired Miller. He was the official photographer for the Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women's Peace through Business executive delegation in Rwanda. Thirty Rwandan business women went through a 10-week training course with a focus on developing entrepreneurship, improving technical skills and creating leaders.
Many of the women there were survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when the country’s ethnic groups— the Hutu, compromising of 84 per cent of the population, and the Tutsi, compromising of 14 per cent of the population—grew divided on who assumed blame for Rwanda’s increasing social, economic and political pressures.
On April 6, 1994, after a plane carrying Hutu President Habyarimana was shot down, a civil war between the Hutu and the Tutsi erupted. Nearly 800,000 people, mostly Tutsi, were killed in 100 days.
The year 2014 was the 20th anniversary of the genocide, an event that targeted a group based on propaganda.
At the IEEW delegation, women were selected for different reasons—reasons based on merit. Fifteen of the 30 graduates were chosen to further their leadership development in the United States with one-on-one female mentoring. Miller captured all of this, from the women’s businesses, which varied in handcrafts and clothing sales, to advertisements and auto mechanic business; delegation interviews with Rwanda diplomat; and non-profit settings when the women volunteered.
“I was amazed how many of the wounds caused by the genocide had healed and the forgiveness of the people within this short 20-year period,” Miller said. “There seemed to be a recognition by all that, although no one would ever forget this period, the country must move past the genocide as a defining event to allow Rwanda to grow and prosper.”
Miller’s goal is to be true to the people, places and animals wherever he shoots. He wants to capture meaningful images that help to tell the story.
“This means understanding the subject and locations where I am going to shoot because looking through the view finder,” he said. “With wildlife, it’s about understanding the habitat and life of the animal to capture the most nature behaviours in a nature setting.”