Using my roots to connect in deeper conversations in the No Man's Land of Vermillion Parish / by Zack Smith

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My roots and cultural threads are often needed to make connections when photographing the landscapes of Louisiana and emotional terrain clients and subjects.

On a recent photo shoot in the wilds of the Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary, deep in the Louisiana coastal marshes of Vermillion Parish, I needed more than extra batteries and secure digital memory cards to creatively photograph our team's experience there. Yesterday I joined an amazing team from the Audubon Louisiana institute, Rainey Sanctuary, and Cultural Vistas Magazine to document new tactics taken on by Audubon Louisiana to revitalize portions of the battered Louisiana coast due to pipeline cutting, saltwater intrusion, and storms. I found it very necessary to use my knowledge of Vermillion Bay, Lafayette, and the smaller surrounding towns' culture and music to make connections with our guides and host...vital when wanting to photograph the story behind the story.

Located on a peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico, the sanctuary is a prime example of the land loss crisis threatening communities, industries and wildlife across coastal Louisiana. This land loss has been worsened by storms like Rita and Ike, which decimated much of the property and turned hundreds of acres of the sanctuary into open water. I was so honored to be able to work on this job as part of an article, video, and documentary produced by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities' Cultural Vistas magazine. 

This wildlife sanctuary just south of Vermillion Bay is closed off to the public. Being one of the few photographers to be granted access to this cultural gem was not lost on me as I toured it's vast channels and waterways.

The National Audubon Society’s oldest and largest bird sanctuary is held here, spanning 26,000 acres in Vermilion Parish, and I was there to photograph the discussion of it's history and importance to bird populations, and overview of the various restoration efforts underway that has made Rainey a living laboratory of coastal restoration to inform private landowners across the Louisiana coast. I was inundated with a vast coastal knowledge from conservationists, ornithologists, and preservationists like never before. 

Audubon has been a Louisiana landowner since 1924, and seeks to endow Louisiana landowners with a better understanding of available self-powered, affordable marsh creation techniques to restore land on their own properties. The Sanctuary provides critical migratory and  nesting habitat for over 200 species of birds, including some threatened species. Even though the day we went in July was probably the slowest time for any type of bird action, Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Louisiana, counted over 35 unique bird species in our 6 hours on site. 

As a lifelong resident of Louisiana and lover of her people and cultures, I feel it is my duty to make sure I do what I can with my talents and creative energy to make sure our land is protected for the future generations. Stay tuned for the article and corresponding video in the coming months!