As an eighth-generation Floridian from one of the state's most prominent ranching families, Carlton Ward Jr. grew up with a deep appreciation for the state's most precious asset, its beauty.
During his childhood, he hunted, fished and rode horses through some of Florida's most pristine areas. When development threatened those areas, he began contemplating what he could do to assure their future.
Despite his family's wealth, which would have financed any career he chose to pursue, Ward used a camera lens to make others feel the same passion he had for his native state.
Regarded as one of Florida's most prominent conservation photographers, Ward, 34, has been chronicling the state's wild places since his teens. In addition to documenting the lives of Florida cowboys, he has sought to capture the culture and heritage of everything from rodeos to small fishing villages.
"My goal is to bring an emotional attachment to the environment to those who view my photographs," said Ward, who will appear at Brooksville City Hall at 2 p.m. Saturday as part of Founders Week activities to sign copies of his latest book, Florida Cowboys: Keepers of the Last Frontier.
Ward said his decision to pursue photography as a career came about while he was at the University of Florida studying for a master's degree in ecology. He took a scientific approach to the subject but knew that vivid images could spark interest even in a casual observer of nature.
"Photography is a powerful medium that communicates to a wide range of attitudes," he said. "And when you're talking about conservation, you often have to bridge wide gaps."
Ward, who worked as photo intern for scientists at the Smithsonian Institution in 2001, discovered the medium's power when he exhibited photographs he took of more than 400 animals from the state of Gabon in West Africa.
"There were 26 presidents from throughout the continent poring over those images all night," he recalled. "I like to think that it made some impression on them when it came to thinking about environmental issues."
Back home, Ward began to think about ramping up his own involvement in conservation photography. He founded the Legacy Institute for Nature & Culture, an organization that promotes conservation through media and the arts.
This year he's promoting the Florida Wildlife Corridor, which he hopes will lead to a wildlife corridor from the Everglades to Georgia.
"It's an important step to making sure these lands will be here 100 years from now. I think we owe it to every generation that follows us."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected]