RYERSON WOODS – Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods is honoring Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier, two of the world’s most celebrated photographers and conservationists, with the 2022 Distinguished Environmental Leadership Award at the 39th annual Smith Nature Symposium Awards Ceremony at Brushwood Center.

The ceremony will be Sept. 30. In collaboration with Hilton Asmus Contemporary Gallery, their work will be on exhibition at Brushwood Center’s Gallery from Sept. 12 through Oct. 30.

“We are humbled by both Paul and Cristina’s significant accomplishments on behalf of people and the planet, embodied through their stunning artistry, bold leadership and advocacy for the environment,” said Gail Sturm, board chair at Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. “We are so inspired by their storytelling, incredible body of art and their advocacy for ocean protection through their nonprofit, SeaLegacy. Their passion for this planet and belief in the power of people to come together and create change is kin to the spirit of Brushwood Center.”

Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods works collaboratively with community partners, artists, health care providers and scientists to improve health equity and access to nature in Lake County and the Chicago region. Brushwood Center engages people with the outdoors through the arts, environmental education and community action. Brushwood Center’s programs focus on youth, families, veterans and those facing racial and economic injustices.

Nicklen is a Canadian photographer, filmmaker and marine biologist who has documented the beauty and plight of the planet for more than 25 years. He was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame in 2019 and in that same year was appointed to the Order of Canada. He has done 23 assignments for National Geographic and won many prestigious awards.

Mittermeier is a world-renowned conservationist and photographer who knows that stunning visual storytelling is the key to unlocking critical action to help heal the oceans and save the planet. She founded the International League of Conservation Photographers in 2005, is a contributing photographer at National Geographic and was named one of the 100 Latinos Most Committed to Climate Action in 2021.

Working together on the front lines of conservation, often onboard the SeaLegacy 1, Nicklen and Mittermeier also are partners in life. Both are marine biologists, and earlier this year they received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, Honoris Causa, from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. In 2014, they co-founded SeaLegacy, a nonprofit organization that propelled ocean conservation onto the world stage through the power of visual storytelling, impact campaigns and the funding of sustainability projects. Guided by science and driven by purpose, SeaLegacy is the global marketing, education and communication agency for the ocean.

“To be recognized by Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods and to be acknowledged alongside people whose work inspires us greatly is a true honor,” Mittermeier said in a news release. “Paul and I look forward to sharing our work, our vision and our dedication to using the authentic beauty of art and storytelling as an invitation to take action to protect our one and only home. We know that Brushwood shares this mission with us and that working together is the only path to true and positive impact.”

The Distinguished Environmental Leadership Award was first presented in 1984 to Roger Tory Peterson, the esteemed American naturalist, ornithologist, artist and educator.

The awards ceremony takes place at the Lake County Forest Preserve’s Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago, a green building and gathering space designed by environmental architect Bill Sturm.

Brushwood will display selections from the couple’s newest exhibition “Evolve, The Photography of Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen.” As the world and its inhabitants adapt with the ebb and flow of constant change, so, too, does an artist’s view. From a bird’s-eye view of the meandering formations of the Colorado River that mimic patterns of branching trees and human lungs to the lushness of what looks like an underwater painting celebrating the layers of life beneath the water’s surface, all is connected. “Evolve” is the artists’ journey as witness and passionate defender to the natural resilience and determination of a planet on which all life must coexist.

“Evolve” includes the first selections from Nicklen’s new Delta Series ahead of its premier at Art Basel in Miami later this year. It also includes never before seen work from Mittermeier.