NGTI Raw File, National Geographic Traveller India’s monthly series, is a celebration of travel photography in all its glory. We spotlight the craft of photographers, who bring us all those wallpaper-worthy shots. Every month, an accomplished photographer will share a signature photo with us, and give us a rare peek into a special story behind that picture.
Our fifth installment in the series puts the limelight on Eric Bennett—a Utah-based landscape photographer whose work has taken him to over 30 countries. His profile is an eclectic collection of some of the planet’s greatest wonders ranging between the Australian coastlines and the Arctic glaciers. He is of the firm belief that if he can capture a place in the right way, then he can give the world a glimpse of its true value in its unaltered, natural state. Through his work, Bennett hopes to “inspire a desire in others to protect and conserve the little wilderness we have left.”
IN FOCUS: Between 2018 and 2020, Bennett found himself frequenting Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and capturing its remarkable geological features. His goal? He hoped to share its value with the world and shield it from industrial threats. The region has been targeted by corporations and the state for decades due to its lucrative minerals such as coal, petroleum and uranium, which lie just beneath its many natural wonders. In the beginning of 2018, the presidential administration announced the dismantling of the National Monument in order to free up the once-protected areas to be leased for mining and drilling.
“I found and photographed this scene while on one of those trips in the fall of 2018. But due to its abstract nature, I didn’t originally use it as part of my conservation campaign,” Bennett explains in an email exchange. After years of photographing similar subject matters, his website now displays an entire portfolio of fallen autumn leaves, which formed naturally over time.
IN SHOT: “I titled this image “Ritual,” since to me it looked like these two leaves were spellbound as they lay in some sort of magical potion,” Bennett mentions before revealing that apart from naming his images, he usually refrains from sharing his personal interpretation of the photographs, since it can restrict the imagination and inhibit others from drawing their own conclusions.
He recalls the time leading up to this photograph when the narrow canyons of southern Utah were covered in a carpet of fallen cottonwood leaves. “The leaves land in stagnant puddles that lie in dark, lonely corners of the desert and evaporate very slowly, remaining undisturbed for weeks. As the leaves decay over time, they release tannins and oils that accumulate on the surface of the water, creating a layer of biofilm, which once concentrated enough, reveals incredible patterns and colours as light reflects through it.”
“As soon as I saw these two complementing leaves pressed against a fascinating, colourful pattern, I knew exactly how I needed to frame them,” Bennett spills about composing the perfect shot that went on to win him Photographer of the Year in the 2021 Natural Landscape Awards. “It was more about excluding everything else around them, in order to allow these details to receive full attention. Sometimes you find things in nature that are so extraordinary and inherently visually pleasing, that it really comes down to just not messing it up,” he adds.
As a photographer who often returns to places over and over again, Bennett has noticed a stark difference in the ever changing landscapes. “Trees that once stood tall and strong, now lie on the earth as skeletons. Glaciers that once filled an entire valley or basin, have now receded several hundred meters. Streams have dried up or deviated. Delicate formations have crumbled. As nature constantly builds, destroys, and reorganises raw materials, on a long enough timescale, everything around us is transient. This photograph is just another reminder to not take the things I love for granted. I hope I can see as many gifts of nature as possible before either they are all gone or I am,” Bennett signs off.
Pooja Naik is Senior Sub-Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.