A handful of prolific photographers will make the journey to the San Ramon Valley in the coming months as part of the lineup for a touring National Geographic speaker series being hosted by the Blackhawk Museum.
The series will feature four longtime National Geographic photographers, who will discuss their work live on stage, illustrated with images from the publication. Although united by their work at the well-known, longstanding magazine, the speakers offer a range of backgrounds and approaches, with the shared goal of using imagery to tell the stories that have come to speak to them most throughout their careers.
Additionally, the series will serve as a welcome event of sorts for the museum's two newest exhibits, "The Indo China Gallery" and "World of Nature Gallery". The former was closed shortly after opening due to the pandemic, which also delayed the debut of the latter.
"The National Geographic speaker series was always intended to have speakers that related to those two new galleries," said Jon Snyder, director of operations at the museum.
Since reopening, the museum has reduced the days it operates to Fridays through Sundays. Currently, masks and physical distancing are required. However, Snyder notes that the museum continues to have ample room to accommodate attendees, hoping for a turnout of about 200 people to the speaker events.
Snyder notes that the series, which the museum had planned to host for some time, had to be delayed until this stage of the pandemic, in order to best serve the community and the museum's members.
"We wanted to be able to have the people who have been part of the museum for the last 30 years to come in person and do something," Snyder said.
The first speaker in the series, Michael Yamashita, will feature work and a discussion that complement both galleries this Thursday (Sept. 16).
Yamashita has used his work as a longtime photographer in tandem with his academic expertise in Asian studies. A central focus of his work has been retracing the journeys of history's famed explorers, such as Marco Polo and Chinese Adm. Zheng He. The most recent of Yamashita's projects centers on the Silk Road, as well as the path's restoration under the New Silk Road Initiative.
Emmy-nominated documentarian Andy Mann follows Yamashita in the lineup on Oct. 14, with a talk entitled "From Summit to Sea." The discussion and accompanying images will center on Mann's work as not just an accomplished documentary filmmaker and photographer, but the climbing, diving and exploration skills that have made much of his ambitious work possible.
The motivation for Mann's work stems not just from exploration for its own sake, but with the goal of promoting conservation, and of bridging "the gap between science and policy". While scientific data about the effects of climate change, and its threat to endangered species, may not be able to touch everyone's hearts and minds, photos that inspire awe can.
The penultimate event in the series on Nov. 3 will feature photographer and filmmaker Ami Vitale, discussing the details of her storied life and career. Vitale's work, and her motto of "living the story", has taken her from warzones to wildlife photography.
Vitale has combined her focus on human conflict and overlooked suffering with wildlife conservation as well, with her latest work focusing on the fight to save the planet's few remaining northern white rhinos, as well as showcasing the work of the world's only indigenous-led and run elephant sanctuary. Her work has been featured in two National Geographic series: "Mission Covershot," and "Over the Islands of Africa."
To wrap up the series on Nov. 18, longtime National Geographic photographer Steve Winter will present "On the Trail of the Big Cats." Winter's work, grounded with a background in photojournalism, and an education at Academy of Arts and University of San Francisco, has focused on exploration of relatively untrodden territory, and documenting the unexpected adventures that come along the way.
It's this thirst for adventure and exploration that drove him to not just passively monitor, but actively seek out wild felines, with the goal of capturing them up close and personal at poignant moments in their day-to-day lives.
According to Snyder, the speaker series marks a shift in the museum's focus, from its roots in automobile history, toward broadening its horizons and adapting to the changing times.
"We're trying to pass along a conservation message, which is really core to everything National Geographic does," Snyder said.
Tickets for each talk are $20 for members and $35 for non-members. Doors open at 6 p.m. on presentation nights, and the speakers begin at 7p.m. Reservations can be made in advance here.