Chances are you haven’t heard of Omaha native Gary Braasch. But there’s a good chance you have seen his work.
Braasch, a pioneer in photographing climate change, died this month while working in Australia.
Braasch was among the first to show how the planet is changing, and his work includes the pairing of modern-day images of glaciers with archival images. His use of “repeat photography” — returning time and again to the same spot — helped chart a path for others to photograph the effects of global warming.
“Gary was one of the first to think about how to document climate change — it’s hard to document change in one frame,” said Alexandra Garcia, executive director of the International League of Conservation Photographers. “He figured out how to do it.”
His work has been featured in Life, Time, National Geographic, Vanity Fair, the New York Times Magazine and other publications. France invited him to exhibit his photographs during the international climate talks last year in Paris. In 2013, the Boston Science Museum exhibited his work in a one-man show.
He co-founded with Lynne Cherry the Young Voices for the Planet films, to give children a vehicle to feel empowered, Cherry said.
“That project meant a lot to him. ... They’re the ones who will bear the brunt of climate disruption,” she said.
A graduate of Benson High School, Braasch died March 7 while snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef as he sought images of coral bleaching. He was 72.
“Gary was the photographer ... who tried hardest, and most successfully, to grasp the enormity of climate change,” said Bill McKibben, climate activist and co-founder of the grassroots 350.org. “It’s a real challenge to tackle something so big and slow-moving ... but he did.”
James Hansen, the former NASA climate scientist who was among the first in the 1980s to sound the alarm about global warming, described Braasch as exceptional for his ability to communicate the changes occurring.
"He was a totally dedicated, selfless person, said Hansen, a Denison, Iowa, native. "It is a tragedy that his life was cut short -- he still had so much to give."
Braasch’s peers remember him as committed to advancing the professions of photography and journalism. He was a founding member of the International League of Conservation Photographers and of the North American Nature Photography Association and a mentor with the Society of Environmental Journalists.
Fellow Nebraskan and noted photographer Joel Sartore said Braasch’s decades of work reflected his thoughtful nature.
“He worked tirelessly to get the public to care about the natural world and what was becoming of it. These days, that’s harder and harder to do.”
Braasch led the adventurer’s life, traveling to all corners of the Earth, said his son, Cedar Braasch.
To obtain photos for a 10-page spread, “The Secret Life of a Tree in a Rain Forest,” in Life magazine, Braasch lived for a while atop a tree in Costa Rica, his son said.
“I always knew Dad was going to go away sometime and not come home. It was just a question of when,” Cedar Braasch said by phone from his home in Oregon.
That Cedar would be named after a tree typified Braasch’s devotion to nature. The younger Braasch said his father opted for “Cedar” when “Mom wouldn’t let him name me Forest.”
In addition to his son, Braasch is survived by a sister Peggy Braasch Strickland of Weston, Missouri, his partner in life and work, Joan Rothlein of Oregon, and his former wife, Mary Jo Anderson of Oregon. His extended family includes cousin Karen Sundell of Omaha.
His sister said her brother got his start in journalism at Benson, where he was business manager and managing editor of the Benson High News.
"The inspiration of his life, to me, is not only what he did, but that he found his purpose and he pursued it," she said. "There is so much to be grateful for.
"He was such an advocate for the planet — and that means for all of us."
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Correction: The North American Nature Photography Association was misidentified in a previous version of this story.