Dorothy Kerper Monnelly

A Special Guest Post

by Dorothy Kerper Monnelly, photographer and wetland activist for The Great Marsh, MA.


The Massachusetts Great Marsh has become my ”visual center” since moving to Ipswich, Massachusetts forty years ago. Little did I realize, when I first started wandering through the marshes with camera, that this wild and ever-changing place would continue to hold me for much of my photographic career, culminating in my first book: ”Between Land and Sea, The Great Marsh” ( George Braziller, 2006).


There are so many ways to know a place. I must confess that I have never dug clams, but I love to swim and kayak in the marsh and have also learned to navigate some of her less lovely characteristics such as hordes of bloodthirsty mosquitoes and painful greenheads. ( bug nets are great- and no problem focusing through them.)


It is a “tradition” for landscape photographers to look for opportunities to protect, support and teach. I realize that there is a connection among all these things- and when it happens most significantly is when the photographer ( me in this case) clicks the shutter. It is not just my finger or my eye or even my mind- but it is all of me and my experience that is there in the moment of recognition.


Spring Tide and SwallowI probably “cut my teeth” as an activist almost forty years ago when I took a leadership role in saving our local orchard from development.
It was wonderful to receive the first Agricultural Preservation Restriction in the state of Massachusetts for our neighborhood effort. Although the orchard is not Great Marsh, it is in the middle of this landscape and contributes to the feeling of place. (I studied aesthetics in college and majored in philosophy, and recognize now as a photographer what I recognized long ago as a student).


Without going into too much detail, I think that I tend to get involved in protecting places that I feel strongly about when I realize that their natural integrity is threatened in some way. Soon after the orchard project, a National Wildlife Refuge, which is a long barrier beach peninsula, was threatened with road paving. Another woman and I worked with other conservation groups to form a coalition. The road paving was stopped and we were presented with an award, but I realized even then that the real reward was keeping a beautiful, peaceful place from becoming a highway.


Working with local conservation groups as a board member or a committee member I soon found that my photographs were useful in communicating the many values of land protection. Some of the conservation photography crossed the line for me and was also fine art, but I felt that even recording with the camera was worthwhile. I also helped staff in their efforts to protect the dunes and resting and feeding shorebirds at the beach, and balance the needs of the public with their mission as stewards of fragile landscapes. It is no coincidence that when I returned to teaching in the local schools, I developed curriculum to teach thinking skills, using many of the local, complex issues that I knew about first hand.


Witch Island


Another effort that I have contributed to for several decades now is our local Open Space Committee. Through the vision of one of our members, we can now look back on a full program to protect important open space in our community, a staff to carry out the plan, and fifteen million dollars authorized by the community for land protection, most of which has been reimbursed through grants.


How does this all connect with my photography? I see it as a circular process whereby one experience enriches and reinforces another. How is it all connected? …click…

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