By Laura Mallonee
There's no place earth untouched by human activity: This was clear as Lucas Foglia whizzed across the vast, white expanse of Alaska's Juneau Ice Field last summer. He was riding an old pair of skis towed by scientist Uwe Hofmann, who periodically stopped his snowmobile to measure the rapidly melting glacier.
“It was an unforgettable experience,” says Foglia, a photographer featured in WIRED’s December issue. "Being in a place that big and wild made me feel small in a way I had never felt before, yet I knew that humans as a whole were changing that landscape.”
Foglia explores this tension in his stunning new book Human Nature. It features nearly 60 photographs that illustrate the varying ways nature impacts humans and humans impact nature—for better or worse. "It focuses on our relationship with nature, how we need wild places even if they have been shaped by us," Foglia says. "I think of each photo in the book as the tip of the iceberg that hopefully points viewers to the larger story underneath the surface of the image."
Foglia grew up on a farm in rural Long Island. Watching the surrounding fields slowly being swallowed up by housing tracts inspired his work documenting the natural environment—a focus that grew in intensity after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the eastern seaboard in 2012. “Climate change is on the news every day these days, but I realized I didn’t know what the science looked like.” he says. “I felt like photography could clearly describe the process of the science.”
Over the next five years, Foglia trailed scientists in five countries with his medium format digital camera as they took samples of air pollution, studied geysers, and launched ozone balloons into the atmosphere. He also examined governmental efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. The Singapore Green Plan, for instance, requires developers to include green spaces in new buildings, while the Agricultural Experiment Station in New York helps farmers develop crops that can withstand changing weather patterns (more on that here).
These programs matter not only because people need nature to survive. They also matter because people need nature to thrive. Foglia learned this while documenting the research of David Strayer, a University of Utah neuroscientist who hooks participants up to EEG caps and facial electrodes as they spend time in rugged landscapes. His research shows that unplugging in nature actually increases cognitive function, helping people better solve creative problems. "He said that, in his opinion, time in wild places is part of human nature," Foglia says.
Strayer's idea reverberates throughout Human Nature. It explains the feeling of wonder and freedom Foglia felt while gliding across a remote Alaskan ice field—and further underscores the need to preserve places like it.
Human Nature is out this month from Nazraeli Press.