There’s no place on earth untouched by human activity: This was clear as Lucas Foglia whizzed across the vast, white expanse of Alaska's Juneau Ice Field last summer. He was riding an old pair of skis towed by scientist Uwe Hofmann, who periodically stopped his snowmobile to measure the rapidly melting glacier.
“It was an unforgettable experience,” says Foglia, a photographer featured in WIRED’s December issue. "Being in a place that big and wild made me feel small in a way I had never felt before, yet I knew that humans as a whole were changing that landscape.”
Foglia explores this tension in his stunning new book Human Nature. It features nearly 60 photographs that illustrate the varying ways nature impacts humans and humans impact nature—for better or worse. "It focuses on our relationship with nature, how we need wild places even if they have been shaped by us," Foglia says. "I think of each photo in the book as the tip of the iceberg that hopefully points viewers to the larger story underneath the surface of the image."
Foglia grew up on a farm in rural Long Island. Watching the surrounding fields slowly being swallowed up by housing tracts inspired his work documenting the natural environment—a focus that grew in intensity after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the eastern seaboard in 2012. “Climate change is on the news every day these days, but I realized I didn’t know what the science looked like.” he says. “I felt like photography could clearly describe the process of the science.”
Over the next five years, Foglia trailed scientists in five countries with his medium format digital camera as they took samples of air pollution, studied geysers, and launched ozone balloons into the atmosphere. He also examined governmental efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. The Singapore Green Plan, for instance, requires developers to include green spaces in new buildings, while the Agricultural Experiment Station in New York helps farmers develop crops that can withstand changing weather patterns (more on that here).
These programs matter not only because people need nature to survive. They also matter because people need nature to thrive. Foglia learned this while documenting the research of David Strayer, a University of Utah neuroscientist who hooks participants up to EEG caps and facial electrodes as they spend time in rugged landscapes. His research shows that unplugging in nature actually increases cognitive function, helping people better solve creative problems. "He said that, in his opinion, time in wild places is part of human nature," Foglia says.
Strayer's idea reverberates throughout Human Nature. It explains the feeling of wonder and freedom Foglia felt while gliding across a remote Alaskan ice field—and further underscores the need to preserve places like it.
Human Nature is out this month from Nazraeli Press.
There’s something they say about words and pictures, so we won’t belabor this too much. Below you’ll find some of the most eye-catching photographs we ran on the site in the last year. Set aside some time to scroll through each one: They’re an amazing window onto everything that’s happening in the world–from Detroit’s collapse and the economic rise of China and the Middle East, to environmental disasters at home and abroad.
And then, less seriously, some great photos of those ridiculous fake tree cell phone towers, hilarious examples of what happens when strangers draw your Facebook photos, and a series of the true residents of Portland, who are crazier than anything you’ve seen on Portlandia. You’ll enjoy them all. And if that’s not enough, you can see our favorites from last year here.
1: Beautifully Mashed-Up Photos Show The Glory And Wreckage Of Detroit
The “Detroit Now and Then” project artfully combines vintage photos of the city with images of what’s there now, providing a poignant reminder of what the city was, what it is now and–maybe–what it could be again.
2: “Portraitlandia”: Photos Of Portland’s Most Portland-y Residents
If Portlandia were a photo series, it would probably look something like Kirk Crippens’s “Portraitlandia,” which features iconic Rose City residents in their natural habitats.
3: Look At These Chinese Workers Carrying Mind-Blowing Amounts Of Stuff
11: These Horrifying Photos Show A Destroyed American Landscape That Agriculture Giants Don’t Want You To See
These aerial images of industrial beef farming operations look less like shots of land and more like a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
12: These Photos Of Tiny, Futuristic Japanese Apartments Show How Micro Micro-Apartments Can Be
Micro-apartments are in vogue today. But in Japan, people have been living in the Nakagin Capsule Tower’s 100-square-foot housing for decades.
Read more of our best stories of the year in these categories: Top stories, infographics, photography, maps, buildings, design, cities, food, transportation, innovative workplaces, bikes, collaborative consumption, energy, crowdfunding, robots, environment, health, education