Nature Photographer Discusses Career with Students

24 Jan 2018
ByDebra Sands, 7th Grade History TeacherZachary G '23

It was with great pleasure that Fieldston Middle's seventh grade welcomed John Isaac, a former United Nations photojournalist, to campus on January 11. During his career with the UN, Isaac became chief of its photography unit and traveled to over 120 countries, documenting some of the most intense suffering of recent times—from the 1983 Ethiopian famine to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. His images were used by the United Nations in numerous publications and for a variety of peace initiatives.

Following his work for the UN and the intense toll that it took on him, Isaac turned his photo lens on nature and wildlife. Key bodies of his wildlife work include the endangered tigers of India's national parks, the migrating cranes of New Mexico's Bosque del Apache, the grizzly bears of Alaska's Katmai, and the national parks of Namibia, Africa.

Isaac's talk covered all of these topics. He showed numerous images and also described photographs he did not take because he believed they would have "damaged the integrity of the individual in the frame." He talked about times his own life was in danger and the mental toll these situations had on him. Throughout his hour-long talk and question-and-answer session with the seventh grade, Isaac continuously stressed the importance of finding what makes one truly happy and how necessary it is to pursue that goal. For him, happiness has always been found through the lens of a camera.

After the formal discussion, Isaac held a smaller Q&A session with approximately 20 students who had previously signed up. One of these students, Zachary Gellert, writes:

During the smaller Q&A, there were more topics of discussion, such as John Isaac's time with Michael Jackson. He responded by saying that Michael Jackson was one of the most wonderful people he ever met. One of the many questions that was asked was, "What was the most depressing trip you ever did?" He responded with the Rwandan genocide, because so many children were injured or killed. John Isaac, or "John," as he wanted us to call him, discussed the intelligence of tigers and other reasons he liked photographing tigers. He finished the Q&A by talking about how lucky he is to be sponsored by Olympus cameras and how he welcomes any follow-up questions through email.

Throughout both talks, John Isaac's positivity and love of photography, life, and sharing experiences with others were evident. Whether impacted by his photographs, his life story, or his celebrity anecdotes, each person who came in contact with Isaac emerged positively influenced.