Purchase College alum Camille Seaman ’92 has gained widespread recognition for her photographs of the environment—of icebergs at the ends of the Earth and super storm cells in the U.S. Midwest’s Tornado Alley. She was both a TED fellow in 2011 and a TED senior fellow in 2013. (TED is a renowned nonprofit organization whose mission is to spread the ideas of “the world’s most inspired thinkers.”) Seaman was recently awarded a prestigious John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University for 2013–14. Amazingly, she didn’t start taking pictures seriously, with intent, until she was 32 years old.
Seaman answered an internal call to action. She describes an overwhelming feeling inside her akin to turning on a light switch. Without any real plan in mind, she decided to document her experience on Earth. She began making pictures during tourist trips on icebreaker ships in the Arctic, and photographed her first iceberg near Antarctica in 2003.
Recalling her time at Purchase College in class with the late Jan Groover, a renowned photographer, Seaman explains, “I sat in her class and didn’t understand a word of what she was trying to communicate about photography. And I swear it wasn’t until ten years later that one day it hit me: ‘That’s what that was!’” She laughs, grateful that she stuck it out. She also credits John Cohen, professor emeritus of visual arts, with teaching her social responsibility— how it’s a gift if people allow you to photograph them. She paraphrases, “They’re giving you something. Don’t feel that you have the right to take anything.” To this day, she never speaks of “taking” or “shooting,” preferring instead the expression “making” pictures or photographs.
At first, magazine editors considered her work fine art and referred her to galleries, yet gallery directors felt it was too photojournalistic. Unwilling to compromise, she vowed to remain true to herself and continued to make pictures her way. It wasn’t long before both the magazines and the galleries started to call her. Demand for her work exploded in 2007 once the United Nations declared climate change to be real. Unwittingly and in breathtaking fashion, she had created archival images against which an iceberg’s demise could be compared.
Now she’s storm-chasing in the Midwest, documenting super cells in formation with awe-inspiring results. “The storms are part of our landscape, and as harsh as this might seem, I want people to understand that we’re really blessed; we wouldn’t have the fertile Great Plains without these storms. There’s beauty in this. There’s something much bigger happening and we’re part of it.”