Humanity takes center stage at TED, but I would like to add a voice for the animals, whose bodies and minds and spirits shaped us.
Some years ago, it was my good fortune to meet a tribal elder on an island not far from Vancouver. His name is Jimmy Smith, and he shared a story with me that is told among his people, who call themselves the Kwikwasut'inuxw.
Once upon a time, he told me, all animals on Earth were one. Even though they look different on the outside, inside, they're all the same, and from time to time they would gather at a sacred cave deep inside the forest to celebrate their unity. When they arrived, they would all take off their skins. Raven shed his feathers, bear his fur, and salmon her scales, and then, they would dance. But one day, a human made it to the cave and laughed at what he saw because he did not understand. Embarrassed, the animals fled, and that was the last time they revealed themselves this way.
The ancient understanding that underneath their separate identities, all animals are one, has been a powerful inspiration to me. I like to get past the fur, the feathers and the scales. I want to get under the skin. No matter whether I'm facing a giant elephant or a tiny tree frog, my goal is to connect us with them, eye to eye.
You may wonder, do I ever photograph people? Sure. People are always present in my photos, no matter whether they appear to portray tortoises or cougars or lions. You just have to learn how to look past their disguise.
As a photographer, I try to reach beyond the differences in our genetic makeup to appreciate all we have in common with every other living thing. When I use my camera, I drop my skin like the animals at that cave so I can show who they really are.
As animals blessed with the power of rational thought, we can marvel at the intricacies of life. As citizens of a planet in trouble, it is our moral responsibility to deal with the dramatic loss in diversity of life. But as humans with hearts, we can all rejoice in the unity of life, and perhaps we can change what once happened in that sacred cave.
Let's find a way to join the dance.