Valentin Pacaut is one of these guys you could spend about a million years listening to and never be ever bored. From the frozen Arctic to the jungles of Papua New Guinea, Valentin is a nature photographer whose beard has already been around the globe a few times. His idea is to capture the beauty of nature with his objective.
We wanted to get his point of view on a few of the questions that we scratch our head on here at Plan A. He accepted to give us a wide-ranging interview, along with a few pictures he gathered during his expeditions East, West, North and South. Fasten your mental seatbelt.
Hey Valentin, thanks for talking to us. For starters, can you tell us where you’re from and what you do?
Hey guys, great to be with you, to join your involvement and your academy! I live in France, right now in Paris, but I am from Nevers, a nice city along the Loire river, in the region called “Bourgogne” in French, Burgundy. I used to spend my time between this place and another fantastic region, next to it, Auvergne, famous for its old volcanoes landscapes, its nature.
I am an agricultural engineer and a photographer. As a photographer I am especially interested in the link that humans have with Nature.
Why did you choose nature to be in the centre of your work?
Since I’ve been a child, Nature has always been important to me, in one way or another. I have always wanted to do something for Nature and for the environment, to try to protect it and to try to make people understand how precious it is. Nature is everywhere, it provides us everything we really need, and it is priceless.
You did not start out as a photographer. What made you dive into it?
No, indeed, first of all I am an agricultural engineer, specialized in local development. I started photography as an amateur when I was around 15. Few years later, during my studies, I started to travel, and I also worked as a safari guide in South Africa, where of course I took some pictures of the amazing wildlife there. Back to France, I started to make exhibitions, and some people were interested about my work. As I was working with a French NGO in favour of biodiversity preservation as a Biodiversity Project manager, I met with a French production, The Explorers, which proposed me to join their team as a photographer and an agricultural engineer.
You are part of The Explorers, a group of adventurers who are building an “inventory of the human and natural heritage”. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?
The Explorers have indeed a beautiful project: they “set themselves the goal of making a report, doing an inventory of the riches of our world, to show its marvels without hiding the wounds, without forgetting man, both creator and victim of the mutations he inflicted on Nature”. With this project, The Explorers want to take inventory of all the planet’s natural, cultural and human heritage, with the latest technology 4K/UHD. You can have a look on www.theexplorers.com.
Have your travels photographing the beauty of the world changed your perception of our planet?
Both yes and no actually.
Yes, because even when you hear or read about deforestation, poaching, reduction of sea ice for instance, or about any threat of that kind, it is not easy to integrate it, to be aware that this is really happening. But when you see it from your own eyes, it reminds you how urgent it is to take action for our planet, and including for local communities. Inevitably, it makes you want to fight that much harder, especially for the next generations. I mean, the planet will probably “survive” climate change and other threats, but what about us, humans? And what will we leave to our children?
A lot of conservation projects, in the field, involve local communities as a major stakeholder, giving them the keys for a sustainable and intelligent development, in accordance with the local tradition and culture, and in favour of our natural heritage. And it works!
That leads me to the “no”-part of my answer. I believe that there is an indescribable link between human and nature, from a cultural, traditional, spiritual points of view and so on, everywhere. It can be through agriculture, food, paintings, rituals, whatever.
As long as there will be involved people to protect (or at least to try to protect) this common heritage at all levels, and especially in the field, there will be a strong message delivered for the planet. And of course, hopefully, anywhere you go, everywhere, you can always be amazed by fantastic landscapes and wildlife, biodiversity in general.
What do you want your photos/work to achieve?
I want to help, in my own way, raise awareness about the natural wealth we still have and we still need, about the urgent need to take action for it, but also to bring forward the initiatives in the field that are doing so much.
How would you define “climate change” to a 5-year-old?
On Earth, it can be very cold towards the Poles, or very hot in deserts for example. But there is an average temperature if you consider the planet as a whole. Climate change is a phenomenon of average temperatures increasing on Earth, especially of oceans and atmosphere’s average temperatures all over the planet.
You can imagine that Earth is surrounded by a kind of a large colander made out of gases, this is the atmosphere. The atmosphere protects our planet and life on Earth from the dangerous rays of the sun, and provide a good temperature for life on Earth: this phenomenon is what we called the natural greenhouse effect.
For many years, human activities have introduced a lot of CO2 in the air, and these gases have an impact on the atmosphere and enhance the natural greenhouse effect. You can for instance imagine that the holes in the colander are getting smaller, and the average temperature on Earth increases. This phenomenon has a direct and long-term impact on climate, on landscapes, on Nature, but also on our daily life.
What makes the climate change discussion so difficult?
That is a good question! I wish I knew the answer! I guess each country has its own policy, objectives and interests to maintain, probably some business lobbies. The last COP21 was a significant step forward, at least it gathered 195 countries, heads of states, and demonstrating again at the same time the civil society mobilization, everywhere in the world. But when global warming sceptics come into the head of one of the world powers, this can have an impact on the negotiations…
Do you feel a change in the way people are approaching the question of environmentalism?
Yes, since many years now. For instance, the word and the idea of “biodiversity” was still, a few years ago, nearly unknown by the general public, and now it is has become a common word, with the real meaning of it. The awareness raising and education work done by associations, institutions, and other appropriate structures, but also schools and teachers, even media, by the civil society in general, is definitely paying off.
It seems that environment is no longer seen as a burden like it used to be, especially by the actors of the private sector who are getting more and more involved, and I think it is very encouraging.
Is there such a thing as a new generation of environmentalists?
I don’t know if we can call it a new generation of environmentalists, probably, but, generally, I think people are increasingly aware about climate change, its impacts, and even about the different factors threatening Nature or biodiversity. Most people know that, deep down, we have our children’s and grandchildren’s future in our hands, and most of us want to take action for Nature.
A lot of things are changing nowadays, in our daily life; our way to consume, organic and sustainable, our way of thinking. And we can see that they are a lot of good initiatives from people, communities and associations that are making the difference. The fight for climate change, and for nature, will be a “bottom-up”, I mean motivated by civil society to bring public policies forward.
What’s your favourite thing to photograph?
I love to photograph wildlife, but also, as I told you before, the link between human and Nature.
Where is your next adventure taking you and your followers?
I will probably go to Botswana, I hope I can tell you more about it soon!
Find out more of Valentin Pacaut’s work on his website.
For more about the Explorers, follow this link!