Community Photography Project, "Meet Your Neighbours," Brings Nature to You

Portuguese man-o-war, photographed in Florida by Paul Marcellini.

For photographer Clay Bolt, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood—and he wants you to feel the same way by getting to know the creatures and plants that share your space. Bolt is the co-founder of Meet Your Neighbours (MYN), a project that invites photographers to take and share pictures of the natural wonders they encounter while exploring the great outdoors.

Bolt and his partner, photographer Niall Benvie, launched their project in 2009 after realizing that they had complementary aspirations: Bolt wanted more people to notice the incredible biodiversity that exists even in their own backyard, and Benvie hankered to start a movement of sorts. Meet Your Neighbours has since attracted 40 amateur and professional photographers from some 29 locations around the globe, from Florida, to Haiti, to India (Bolt is hoping to attract more participants from Asia and Africa).

Yellow treefrog, photographed in Haiti by Robin Moore.

All participants capture their portraits in nature, using a field studio technique, which incorporates a white background and backlighting (for more on the process, click here). The pristine presentation bestows a sense of unity on the photographs. It also makes the subject—be it scaled, furry, feathered, or botanical—the star, revealing details that the eye might miss amid a more detailed backdrop. Featured this way, “Every little insect, every little animal is like a work of art,” says Bolt. (All species are safely released.)

Speckled racer, photographed in Texas by Seth Patterson.

Some of the participating photographers collaborate with nonprofits to help fund their MYN work (Bolt, for instance, works with The Nature Conservancy.) MYN has also partnered with Nature Picture Library, which allows all photographers the option of selling their images as stock. When possible, Bolt encourages photographers to exhibit their work, too—another important way of sharing MYN images with the public—and he makes himself available to coach other artists on the exhibition process.

Tadpole shrimp, photographed in California by David Hunter.

Recently, MYN also partnered with the Highlands Nature Center to start an outdoors program for kids. Called Backyard Naturalists, the program teaches children the essentials to becoming an amateur naturalist, introducing them to nature journaling, illustration, and, of course, photography.

Ultimately, Bolt hopes that the kind of community photography that MYN encourages will lead to a greater appreciation of nature in all its forms, everywhere it's found. There’s a lot of emphasis on protecting beautiful megafauna in distant places, Bolt explains, but “I feel like there’s such a need right now for conservation messages to be spread into the community,” he says. “If people can go outside and see these things with their own eyes and interact with [them], they’re more likely to care.”

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