A View From the Other Side of the Lens: Mac Stone

Mac Stone, Critical Linkages Photographer for the Panther Glades, finds his photographic calling in Florida's swamps.

Mac Stone, Critical Linkages Photographer for the Panther Glades, finds his photographic calling in Florida’s swamps.

Florida’s swamps: places few appreciate, and even less dare venture into. They are areas beyond human control; areas many people view as dangerous. Critical Linkages Photographer Mac Stone has a different perspective: “There’s something to be said about areas where people don’t’ feel in control. That’s wilderness. With enough practice and time spent in that area you learn your limits and where you’re supposed to be.” Mac, “comfortable in waist deep black water” from a young age, feels his connection with this ecosystem. “These are wonderful sanctuaries for wildlife. We shouldn’t just write them off because we’re a little scared of mosquitoes and snakes.”

Mac explains that he “really tries to capture the whole profile [of a swamp] from that visceral fear that you feel when you get in the water, to calming feel of the cypress reflected in the water.” With his love and experience with swamps and their ecosystems, Mac documented the cypress grasslands of the Panther Glades, for Critical Linkages. During his time working for the Audubon Society in the nearby Florida Keys Mac became familiar with the area.

“Photographing swamps is a delicate balance. I don’t try to engender fear, but I do want people to understand that there is a respect that comes from nature. I think that there are few places where people don’t feel like they dominate. I hope that people realize that it is pretty cool that these areas exist miles within city limits.”

While living in South Florida, Mac focused on studying and documenting how water flows and affects large swaths of land. Mac completed his assignment during the dry season, but he explains that three months later he would have been “knee deep in water. The Everglades Watershed floods the entire area. All of this water slowly percolates to Florida bay or out to the Gulf. That whole ecosystem is determined by water flow and water level.” Like all Critical Linkages, the Panther Glades are a critical migratory habitat for megafauna. Mac describes his purpose: to “showcase [this] habitat, not only for aesthetic purposes but also because it is so critical in maintaining that we still have megafauna. Without connected lands the panther and bear don’t stand much of a chance of surviving.”

Although he never saw a panther while there, Mac describes his experience: “When you’re walking through this area, you don’t want to expect to see a panther, you don’t want to hope. But, it’s such a unique feeling in those tall grass prairies and cypress domes. You have the feeling that, yea, maybe a panther or two are watching you.”

 "You get the feeling that this is where wild things still roam, where the laws of nature still rule, 100%." Critical Linkages Photographer Mac Stone captures the essence of the Panther Glades.

“You get the feeling that this is where wild things still roam, where the laws of nature still rule, 100%.” Critical Linkages Photographer Mac Stone captures the essence of the Panther Glades.

Growing up in Gainesville, Mac played with his brothers in the forests and cypress swamps of north central Florida. It wasn’t until high school that Mac began photographing his outdoor excursions. Of his time with friends he remembers, from fishing to climbing “we would do anything we could,” in the outdoors. Photography seemed the best way to share these experiences with family and friends. “Eventually it turned into an artistic expression of how I felt about the areas. It morphed into a hobby and then into a profession.”

During Mac’s time in high school land conservation began taking-off in Alachua County. In particular there was a movement to protect Mac’s “training ground for photography,” an area nearby his home where he spent a lot of his time. He started teaming up with local land trusts by donating images so they could show the public why they were so important. Mac received support from friends and other photographers, but it wasn’t until the fight for this area ended that he realized what he needed to do. “I realized how important this was when a neighborhood was built on that property. It just derailed me. It made me realize that maybe I should be putting more energy into this and pushing harder than I was.”

“This wildlife is rare and incredibly important to Florida’s ecology and environment. It is important that these animals still have places to roam. It’s important to me as a photographer because I care about everything that’s in my habitat, from the venomous snakes to gators to the bears. There’s nothing but positive things to be gained from having more wild spaces. As Aldo Leopold said, ‘I’m glad that I’m still young as to where I can have wild country to be young in, and I hope that future generations can say that too.’”

After graduating college, Mac spent two years in Honduras. There he taught environmental science and photography to underprivileged kids. Through putting cameras in the hands of 80 children, Mac expanded their horizons and encouraged them to expose local environmental issues. Mac then took a similar project to Wyoming, and will now be taking over as head of the High School Scholarship Program for NANPA. He will hold a summit for 10 kids from around the world to meet National Geographic photographers and editors of major magazines.

Though involved in a number of projects, Mac’s biggest focus currently is an Everglades book documenting the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee down to Florida bay. As a self-described project driven worker, Mac responds to the feeling he had in high school. The work he does through personal projects as well as his job as the Executive Director of a South Carolina Land Trust address conservation needs in and outside of Florida.

You can follow Mac on Facebook, and learn more about his work through his website and blog.