In 2010, photographer Joel Quimby stepped off a plane and into the tropical heat and brisk southeast trade winds of the island of Madagascar. He had just flown thousands of miles to participate in the Earthwatch Institute's research on the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), a cat-like predator and the largest carnivore on the island. The program consisted of trapping wild fossa, fixing them with tracking devices and keeping track of their movements.
Joel was responsible for creating photo documentation of the research at Ampijora Research Station, creating touching images of researchers and fossa as they attempted to come to a mutual understanding. Because of his expert skills, he was then asked to develop a photo essay about women in a local Malagasy village who helped run and maintain the researchers' camp.
"I was inspired by Richard Avedon's In the American West, so I took a series of portraits of the local villagers of Ambodimanga. My style is typically lifestyle photography," Joel said, "but I wanted to do as Avedon did, and take the people out of their element by using a seamless backdrop. Since there was no way to get a roll of seamless there, I settled for a white sheet I brought along as a backdrop."
His photos are of people living lives intimately connected to the natural world around them. They work and play and survive in the deserts and jungles of Madagascar while coming to terms with impacts and demands of encroaching modernization. One image is particularly curious: A woman – dressed in colorful, traditional clothing – stands in a field draped in morning mist. She holds a cell phone, inching it higher and higher, hoping to get a signal.
"She has neither electricity nor running water," said Joel, "but here, cell service has become ubiquitous."
Other images capture the villagers' embrace of conservation and the recent influx of tourism. There are images of fossa and the various preservation projects in which local residents are now participating. Joel said that during his time in Madagascar, he noticed that locals were very supportive of Earthwatch projects and goals and seemed very in-tune with their local conservation needs. Many were happy to be included in project management.
"Although, they are still all wary of the fossa," he laughs. In fact, parts of the fossa conservation project were spearheaded by local scientists, creating a grassroots approach to the protection of the feared predator. "The Malagasy people fear the fossa and have many scary tales about them, so it is important that they learn to live with them and not to kill them as pests."
To see more images from Joel Quimby and his adventures, visit his website.