As a photographer for 15 years one of the most important tools I use is perspective. I always have to be mindful of how an image is made and often I will change my perspective several times, looking to see if an image could be improved from a different vantage point.

But perspective shouldn’t just be used in photography. I believe that using common sense means looking at all of the perspectives. One illustration came to mind recently while reading a book called “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. It describes Chicago in the late 19th Century as a dirty and polluted city. The book describes in vivid detail the grotesque living conditions. Air was black during the winter months from all of the coal stoves used for heating homes, rotting horse carcasses were simply left on the side of the street until spring and drinking water was polluted with lead and other contaminates from tainted wells and corroding pipes. Much of that pollution along with raw sewage, it turns out, was carried away from the city via the Chicago River into Lake Michigan where it was said the stain could be seen stretching for miles.

Reading those descriptions made me examine my perspective on the variety of messages that we receive on a daily basis about environmental pollution today. We hear everyday about global warming, endangered waters lists and acid rain. Do I believe that we need to take care of our environment and be mindful of ways to conserve for the future? You bet. But perspective tells me that things were much worse 100 years ago when our economy, lifestyles and education dictated that pollution in the emerging cities would just be a way of life.

As I’ve taken photos I’ve traveled though many of the cities and towns of Iowa and have been to hundreds of farms across the state. I’m proud of the fact that farmers are proactive in protecting and improving the state’s clean air, water and soil. Iowans lead the country in land stewardship, with the most conservation buffer strips, that prevent soil erosion and protect water quality. We’re also leaders in the development and production of clean fuels like ethanol and bio-diesel. Add wind energy add bio mass fueled energy to that list and you can start to gain a perspective on where we are today compared to a century ago. I also have no doubt that environmental stewardship techniques developed in the 20th century will only be refined to be more efficient as we make our way through the 21st century.

We need to keep all this in mind when we watch the nightly news and hear a barrage of messages about the environment. Sometimes it’s good to change your perspective by looking back at the past to realize how far we’ve come in improving the environment. It’s difficult to see that we are truly better off today if you are just focused on the static.

Written by Joe Murphy
Joe is a photgrapher for the Iowa Farm Bureau.