Preserving Nature
One Click At A Time

an interview by Andrew Elias

LYNN BERREITTER CALLS HERSELF a documentary photographer. She has been documenting her world since she was in sixth grade and took her sister’s Brownie camera to photograph her neighborhood, her home and her friends. Throughout high school she photographed family events and friends with a 110 pocket camera and when she graduated high school and her father bought her her first 35mm camera, a Canon TX, she knew she wanted to be a professional photographer. Now in the digital age, Lynn uses a DSLR to document her world, concentrating on photographing nature. Lynn likes to say that she is ‘preserving nature one click at a time.” We should all be grateful that she is.

I interviewed Lynn about her life on Pine island, her photography, her involvement in environmental issues and how they converge.

Andrew Elias: When did you move from New Jersey to Pine Island—and why? How do you like living on Pine Island?

Lynn Berreitter: My husband and I have been here for seven years. We stumbled upon Pine Island while looking for a place to settle down. When we found Pine Island, we knew we found the place we would call home.

When did you first get seriously involved in photography? What inspired you?

I guess it is safe to say my father was my inspiration. He was an amateur photographer and I used to watch him develop pictures of me in the basement darkroom when I was probably just four years old. When I was about eight I picked up my sisters brownie camera and have been shooting ever since.

You take both color and black & white photographs. How do you approach them differently? Do different subjects dictate the format? Do you prefer one to the other?

With today’s digital cameras it is best to shoot everything in color and do the b&w post production. This way you have both color and b&w images if you so desire. In the 80’s I shot strictly b&w as I was doing photojournalism and had a penchant for shooting street people, Diane Arbus style. It’s still a passion of mine, although Florida is such a colorful place.

What kinds of cameras do you use?

Today I use my Canon 40 D and 20 D camera.

How do you approach your portraits (of people) and photos of birds or flowers differently?

Photographing birds and nature is easy. I love to be out on the water and watch the actions of the birds. They accept me there, and don’t judge. When I’m there, I feel very peaceful and blessed to have the opportunity to do what I do. I can get lost for hours just standing there waiting for them to do something funny or amusing. They are really like kids, especially in breeding season. I have a degree in Environmental Science and was a wetland specialist for ten years in New Jersey. Watching bird behavior and documenting it is just a natural thing for me.

I was introduced to street photography when I spent a year at the Colorado Institute of Art. I had a great instructor named Thomas Daniel. When I saw his photographs I knew that I wanted to do the same. Then I was introduced to Diane Arbus’s work and photojournalists such as the photographers from the Farm Security Administration.

After a hiatus from shooting in the 90s, as I was getting my degree and working in the field or wetlands, I decided to get back into my photography and nature seemed like a smoothe transition. I’m now getting back into my documentary mode and have come up with some wonderful people shots.
You have a gift for taking incredibly intimate photos of birds. How do you do it?

I have a peaceful nature and it seems that they are not bothered by my presence. I have patience. I have my camera with me at all times and am always aware of what is going around me visually.
What do you hope your photographs communicate to the viewer?

I want my photographs to elicit an emotional response from the viewer. I want them to see the life, personality in the eyes of the people I shoot, and even in the animals. I feel it is important to capture a moment and preserve it. It makes us immortal in a sense.

Who are some of your influences and some of your favorites—as a photographer and as an environment activist?

There are so many great nature photographers out there today that one couldn’t mention them all. But I am inspired by the conservation photographers today such Carlton Ward Jr. The big push in nature photography is conservation photography. I hope to be able to contribute to society a legacy in photographs as many other photographers have done. Mr. Ward has been a great influence and I hope to be involved in future projects with him.

You ‘re active in local environmental causes. How and why did you get involved? What are you involved with now?

I think it’s important to protect what we have now and to document it. I always was an environmental person even as a kid. My Dad was also a gardener and my two great loves were to garden and to photograph. It just seemed like a natural thing for me to divert my photography career and go back to school and get my Environmental Science Degree. Even though I was not actively pursuing my photography career I was still shooting and documenting but it was of flowers and wetland habitats. I guess not so different to what I shoot today.

I worked all year developing the Nature Care Fair. The idea was to bring to Pine Island a group of environmental organizations to educate people about the habitats that surround us.

I want to offer a place for people to come in and see what surrounds the island. My gallery is a place for them to start. I don’t think people realize what goes on in nature and maybe if they see how wonderful and fragile our ecosystem is, they will help to preserve it.

I am also just beginning a documentary project on the island of the Commercial Fishing Community. It’s in just the planning stage, so stay tuned for more on that. I hope to collaborate with photographer Carlton Ward on this as he has done something similar in Cortez and Cedar Key. I will be working with local writer Marianne Patton and Jim Roach, who will do video of the project. •

from the March-April 2008 issue