The winner of the WildChina 2017 Explorer Grant was recently announced as photographer and conservationist Kyle Obermann. Titled 'Beyond the Smog: Exploration for Conservation in China's Hengduan Mountains', Obermann's entry focused on local environmentalists' work in the largely-unexplored Hengduan mountains (the geographic belt of North Yunnan, west Sichuan and east Qinghai):
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Since 2011, luxury travel company WildChina has been offering the annual travel grant to aid intrepid travelers who want to make a difference through their adventures. This year's theme was ‘Explore China Differently.’ Past winning projects have included research on the overexploited Tianshan Snow Lotus and preserving China's starry night sky.
Obermann will receive a USD5000 grant and have access to WildChina’s vast local network and resources to design his own unique tour for the company. His project will involve documenting 10 backcountry, grassroots conservation communities in the remote Hengduan Range. Hosted by local partners, he will live with and share stories of these groups' conservation efforts.
If Obermann's name or photography seems familiar it's probably because we've featured the American adventurer before in That's. We catch up with the photographer via e-mail (and South Korea, where he is shooting currently) to find out more about his upcoming project.
Hey Kyle, congratulations! When we last spoke you mentioned your plans to apply for the grant. Were you surprised about the win?
Thanks! So much has happened since December, it's amazing that I've finally made it here. The competition was so tight this year and I was on the edge of my seat the weeks leading up to the decision. I had been planning for this grant the last year and a half, so of course, I had hoped that I'd win, but when I finally got the news it just floored me. Still so thankful.
How long will you be out there and what do you hope to achieve?
I expect to finish in May of 2018. Which means I'll be out in the Hengduan Tibetan region for almost a year! There's never been a more exciting time to be in China for environmental issues. Smog is on the slow decline, the national government is throwing its weight into solving pollution, and actions are well underway to create a National Park system unique to China's own circumstances.
The negative news you see about smog is real, but if that's where you stop then you're living in ignorance about a nation that can no longer afford to be misunderstood or ignored. Everyone's seen the negative side of this country, now I want to show a positive side. I hope my photography and writing can give China and the world a pragmatic vision for what China's future will be like if they protect their environment, and what they (we all) stand to lose if they don't. I'll be publishing in various magazines, a WeChat public account, Instagram, the Outbound Collective , and other various channels to show my work.
What will the grant go towards?
The USD5,000 will go towards about half my total budget for the project. Half of that USD5,000 will contribute towards food and accommodation for the 9-month duration of the expedition. I'll also need to cover transportation costs between remote locations in the Hengduan Mountains and some specific new gear needs. The North Face and SAIF Partners will also be sponsoring me for a lot of gear which of course helps a lot.
Where have you been lately?! We've been loving all your Instagram shots.
Thanks! This last past half-year I have been working with Conservation International to shoot stories of their conservation sites in places like Sichuan, Chongqing and Guangdong. I've also been collaborating with the team behind creating China's first national thru-trail in the Henguan range and am so excited for that development. These are all really big stories. I am preparing to go to the Hengduan range on June 25, so right now I'm doing a ton of prep work while I have good wifi.
Images by Kyle Obermann
Follow Obermann's Hengduan Mountains adventures on his Instagram. To receive updates regarding the WildChina Explorer Grant 2018 email email@example.com