Native Beauty

Upcoming exhibit highlights Marin wildflowers threatened by climate change

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Rob Badger goes to extremes to safely photograph Calypso orchids on Mt. Tamalpais for the upcoming exhibit, ‘Beauty & the Beast.' Credit: Nita Winter

For more than 20 years, award-winning photographers Rob Badger and Nita Winter have been chasing the bloom. That’s the way they describe their work in photographing wildflowers across the Western U.S., an ongoing project that aims to raise awareness about the dangers of climate change on native plants and local ecosystems.

Now, the two Marin City residents present a new exhibit of photography that emphasizes Marin’s vast public lands and scenic array of flora. “Beauty & the Beast: California Wildflowers & Climate Change” runs April 2 to June 1 at the Bay Model Visitor Center in Sausalito and features more than 70 photos of wildflowers taken on the trails of Mt. Tam, Ring Mountain, Point Reyes and other county hotspots as well as locales like the Sierras and Death Valley.

“The point of the project is to use art and text to inspire people to take action. We call it an art to action project,” says Winter.

“Because climate change is affecting ecosystems slowly, what we are showing are the flowers that will be affected by climate change,” says Badger. “We are showing what we have to lose.”

Both East Coast natives, Badger and Winter met while living and working in the Bay Area. Badger’s photography has been focused on nature conservation since the 1980s. Winter’s photography at first was aimed at capturing portraits of underserved communities, though she joined Badger in documenting nature in the early ’90s, when the two moved to Marin.

“We were creating these beautiful images,” says Winter. “But still as activists we wanted to figure out what we could do with them to create change and to create healthier natural communities.”

Ten years back, Seattle-based organization Blue Earth Alliance invited them to create a conservation-themed project, and the idea for “Beauty & the Beast” was born. The exhibition originated at the San Francisco Public Library and currently travels the western states. The Marin chapter of the California Native Plant Society, the Marin Community Foundation and the Marin Municipal Water District are co-sponsoring the upcoming show at the Bay Model.

Much more than landscape photography, Badger and Winter take portraits of wildflowers found on the trails, setting up a black or white background, like a mini-studio, that is carefully wrapped around the plant.

“We isolate the plant from a distracting background,” explains Badger. “We want to isolate the beauty of the blossom. It’s a time-consuming process, but we value the individual (plant) and it’s very rewarding to be able to see the beauty, and the diversity of beauty, and to be able to share the beauty of what is on our public lands.”

In conjunction with the exhibit, a schedule of events offer the public a chance to meet the artists at a reception on April 6, shop for native plants on April 13 and take a tour on May 4 of a native plant garden recently installed at the Bay Model. “The garden is a real-time example of what we are promoting,” says Badger. “It’s not just about the flowers, it’s about all the different life forms that depend on these ecosystems.”

‘Beauty & the Beast: California Wildflowers & Climate Change’ runs April 2-June 1 and features an artist reception on Saturday, April 6, at Bay Model Visitor Center, 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito. Free admission. cnpsmarin.org.

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