Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have marvelled at the incredible landscape photographs for which Craig Potton is best known. Many of us will have one or more of the gorgeous scenic landscape books produced by Craig Potton Publishing on our coffee table.
In the past two years, we’ve seen Craig on our television screens with the ratings-success ‘Rivers’ which was followed by ‘Wild Coasts’. We followed Craig’s journeys into wondrous mountain ranges to see the birth of rivers and watched in delight as he showed us great beauty in our own backyard while gently conveying his messages of conservation and care for our incredible country.
Craig describes himself as conservationist first, photographer second. The television presenting roles came some time after Craig first joined the conservation movement – he’s been on the executive of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society for 30 years – and put him in contact with a much larger audience, an audience that Craig says is more receptive and increasingly more active.
“The television projects have allowed the communication with more people, but it was back at university that I realised New Zealand needed to take much, much greater care of our landscape. Over the generations we have cleared most of the forest from the North Island and more than 80% of wetlands throughout the country have been drained,” says Craig from his home in Nelson.
“I’ve been heavily involved in public awareness campaigns with Forest and Bird, seeking protection for specific areas or species. I’ve been able to use the photographs for all kinds of publicity, so I guess the photography has been something of a tool to support the conservation.”
Craig is somewhat encouraged that the conservation movement has come out of the cities. “In some situations, we’re seeing farmers who care more about their environmental impact. Not everywhere, but certainly in the last decade New Zealand has ‘greened’ a lot.”
In terms of future projects, Craig says he and South Pacific Pictures, which made ‘Rivers’ and ‘Wild Coasts’, have proposed another series and are waiting to hear about the funding. He also has a new New Zealand landscape book out in July 2012.
“I’m busy with the Forest and Bird work in Denniston too, trying to stop the area being mined for coal.”
Forest and Bird volunteers are assessing the unique plants and animals of the Denniston Plateau as part of their work to protect this unique ecosystem in a reserve, and save it from plans for a series of open-cast coal mines.
For Craig, this means many journeys from Nelson over to the plateau which is north of and inland from Westport on some pretty rough roads. Now he has a new Subaru Forester as one of Subaru’s three ‘brand ambassadors’, he says there are some small comforts that make a very big difference to his trips.
“I’ve been driving Subarus for at least three decades and travel long distances as you can imagine. I’ve always had Grand Wagons (Outbacks). I like how they are lower slung than an SUV and even though I can’t change the spark plugs in them the way I did with the 1928 Buick hearse I used to own – it was great for surfboards – the Subarus don’t break down.
“My son has one of my earlier Grand Wagons and it’s now done more than 300,000 kilometres.
“With the Forester, I love that it’s very practical and it works very well as a family car. Leather seats cope with dog hair, there’s a plastic liner in the back which is great for wet wetsuits and it can carry surfboards on the roof rack or with the back seats folded down. It’s not too big, it doesn’t sway like an SUV; in fact, it clings down to the ground well. Though, having said that, the Forester is a bit higher than the Grand Wagon and that’s helpful too.
“Having Blue Tooth with an iPhone is seriously good. The music goes down when the phone rings. Sometimes I like to listen to audio books too. So those small things make for a better journey. I work out of the car a lot – people might be surprised how many of my photos are taken from the side of the road. I generally drive quite slowly – about 90 km/h – we live in an extraordinary country and I want to take the time to savour it.”
Craig balances the environmental impact of car use with the fact the car can take him many places. However that will never be offroad.
“And one thing I feel particularly strongly about is no cars on beaches. Cars kill shellfish and they’re a real no-no ecologically on beaches.
“Cars take us to the mountains, beaches and rivers we want to explore, and then we leave the car in the car park and head out on foot. You’ve got to assess your own impact. Cars are good things, but determine your own limits on use.
“As Thoreau says, society can be judged by what we leave untouched.”