Shawn Heinrichs wears many hats. As a marine conservationist and activist, he co-founded the Blue Sphere Foundation – a non-profit that works to protect our planet’s oceans and the life they support. As a cinematographer, he worked on and shared an Emmy award for the 2012 film, “Untamed Americas.” As himself, he was featured in the 2015 documentary, “Racing Extinction,” which brought many prominent voices together to stress the need for action in light of the looming threat of human-induced mass extinction.
On Saturday, May 26, many of Heinrichs’ roles will converge when he presents the world premiere of his photography exhibit, “Light on Shadow.” With over forty images that he has taken throughout his career, Heinrichs aims to inspire action and promote the conservation of our oceans and marine life.
“Art is my passion, conservation is my purpose, and for me the two are inseparable,” said Heinrichs. “I have found art is the most powerful tool I can bring to bear to help protect the ocean’s most threatened species and habitats.”
A hashtag for the event, #artivism, best captures this sentiment and highlights the power of communicating important issues through art.
If artivism describes Heinrichs’ work, then it is certainly descriptive of the work carried out by other photographers, scientists, and activists. Paul Nicklen, a biologist and photographer for “National Geographic,” recently had this to say in an article for the magazine about combining science and storytelling: “If we are going to succeed in conservation, we need to reach people emotionally. We need to break down the walls of apathy. And that’s not going to happen just through sharing scientific data.”
Both Heinrichs and Nicklen share a deep appreciation for the ability of art and storytelling to connect people with issues that may be lost in scientific jargon or by the sheer distance that separates the story’s subjects from the people reading it. Stories and images have the power to connect us with global issues and expand our circle of concern to issues and problems we don’t always see in our immediate environment.
“Art is a universal language that opens people’s hearts,” said Heinrichs. “We started the foundation to use art in all its forms to connect people on an emotional level with majestic yet endangered marine wildlife and inspire them to act before it is too late.”
His pictures capture the devastating and sometimes irreversible impact that industry, endangered species trading, pollution, habitat destruction, coastal development, and climate change have on the ocean and the innumerable species that depend on its health for survival. Human activity continues to threaten the ocean’s ecosystem, which is inherently delicate as harm to one species or habitat can have a cascade effect on other species and habitats.
The exhibit, which was curated by Matthew Hockley Smith, is presented as part of SAC’s environmental programming and will benefit the Blue Sphere Foundation. A portion of all proceeds will fund the Blue Sphere Foundation’s three major projects or “Priority 1 Programs”: stop impending tuna extinction; protect the “crown jewel” of biodiversity, West Papua; and scale best practice ecotourism. Another part of proceeds will support future SAC programming, with a focus on sustainability.
“Partnering with Shawn Heinrichs and Blue Sphere Foundation is a powerful representation of our commitment to environmentally conscious programming,” said Simone Levinson, a SAC founding board co-chair. “We are thrilled to provide the organization with a platform to allow our audience to reflect on the magnificent gift of our natural resources, while increasing awareness of the magnitude of destruction as a result our daily actions.”
The exhibit opening on Saturday marks the beginning of seven weeks of programming at SAC that will complement and enhance the message of Heinrichs’ exhibit. There will be screenings of a variety of ocean-themed films, including Laird Hamilton’s “Take Every Wave” and the aforementioned environmental documentary, “Racing Extinction.” Additionally, SAC will host discussions, educational events for children, and gallery tours with Heinrichs.
“By the end of the experience we expect visitors to be moved, enlightened, and inspired to impact social change,” said Levinson.
After the exhibit closes on July 16 at SAC, it will travel to Los Angeles and abroad. Promotional partners of the exhibit include other environmental organizations such as Blue Evolution, Lonely Whale, Oceana, Oceanic Preservation Society, Ocean’s Halo, Oceans Deeply, Parley for the Oceans, REN Clean Skincare, and Sea Legacy.
The Blue Sphere Foundation is a non-profit that aims to safeguard the health of our oceans and prevent further destruction of threatened marine species and their habitats. For more information, please visit www.bluespherefoundation.org
Southampton Arts Center is located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton. For more information and a full schedule of programming, please visit southamptonartscenter.org.