If globalization is a double-edged sword, photographer and documentary filmmaker Daniel Byers draws his inspiration from the edge opposite our own. The self-described “expedition artist” said in a Creative Mind lecture this evening, “I realized, as a documentarian and as a human, that I was really interested in exploring not the cutting edge of what was being made—but the cutting edge of what was being lost.”
In his expeditions to sites of geological wonder, chasing elusive wildlife species, aiding healthcare missions, and conducting on-site research for environmental issues, Byers finds his most unique voice through time-lapsed photography. He showed a short film featuring images from Khumbu, of fog drifting over the tops of green, rolling hills, of stars rotating behind a mountain peak, and clouds billowing over and around its snowy base. All this set to music that is at once epic, spiritual, and subtle. Time-lapse, Byers said, is a fairly simple process. “But what it allows you to do is to take something that might not look too dynamic at first view, and to give it life.”
Sensitive to the anthropological delicacy inherent to work of his kind, he strives for compassion. “It’s putting yourself in the mind of somebody else, or something else,” he said, not wanting to discriminate against non-human life forms, “and trying to see the world from their perspective. If you don’t do this, you won’t be representing them appropriately.”
The honesty in his perspective is resonant. He told a story about once encountering Maasai boys in the garb traditional to their coming-of-age rituals, which include circumcision at a teen age. Byers and his colleagues stopped to meet them, taking the boys’ photographs and offering them some money in exchange. They were energetic, dynamic—not what he expected of young men who’d just experienced circumcision. And when he said so, they confessed: They only dressed up to be stopped by someone like him.
We are living in a moment of transition. The richness of diversity is real and present—but slipping through our fingers, Byers emphasized. “Creation comes from within, but inspiration comes from without,” he said. And the diversity available for our exploration feeds our creative abilities. “The decisions we’re making now … are going to determine whether a lot of this stuff is around for the next generation to experience.”