Beauty and the Beast

California Wildflowers and Climate Change

By: Jennifer Jewell
Jennifer-Jewell

Jennifer Jewell is the creator, writer, and host of the award-winning public radio garden program Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural…

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A dazzling carpet of desert candle (Caulanthus inflatus), lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia), and hillside 
daisy (Monolopia lanceolata) carpeted Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County in a wildflower 
“Super Bloom” following winter rains in 2017. Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

A dazzling carpet of desert candle (Caulanthus inflatus), lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia), and hillside 
daisy (Monolopia lanceolata) carpeted Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County in a wildflower 
“Super Bloom” following winter rains in 2017. Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

In 1992, conservation photographer Rob Badger first experienced a rare and spectacular display of California wildflowers in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, a state park in the Mojave Desert. Not wanting his partner and fellow photographer, Nita Winter, to miss what he was seeing, he returned to San Francisco to get her. They quickly drove back to the desert to enjoy and photograph this beauty together.

Bright blue desert Canterbury bells (Phacelia campanularia) and Bigelow’s monkey flower (Mimulus bigelovii) blossoming in a desert wash in Joshua Tree National Park. Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

Bright blue desert Canterbury bells (Phacelia campanularia) and Bigelow’s monkey flower (Mimulus bigelovii) blossoming in a desert wash in Joshua Tree National Park. Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

Desert chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana). Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

Desert chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana). Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Los Angeles County, awash in color from California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) and bird’s-eye gilia (Gilia tricolor). Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Los Angeles County, awash in color from California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) and bird’s-eye gilia (Gilia tricolor). Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

Traveling to public lands throughout the West, Rob and Nita document spectacular wildflower landscapes and use only natural light to create their intimate floral portraits. They work in habitats below sea level in Death Valley National Park and above 13,000 feet in the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains. Their photographs show us what we may lose if climate change continues to irreversibly alter these delicately balanced ecosystems. As wildflower habitats change or disappear, the animals, birds, and insects that depend on them will vanish as well.

Castilleja miniata abstraction. Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

Castilleja miniata abstraction. Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

Rob and Nita’s mission is to inspire action through visual storytelling, by combining documentary art with conservation and climate and botanical sciences. Now, more than 25 years later, their partnership continues with their documentary art project “Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change.” “Beauty and the Beast” is a visual story about nature’s diverse wildflower communities, now found mainly on our public lands.

Rob and Nita’s greatest hope is that they—with all of our help—can ensure that these striking flowers, and the natural communities that support them, will be around for generations to come.

Rob Badger’s set up for shooting a natural light wildflower portrait of a fairy slipper orchid (Calypso bulbosa) in 
Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County. Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

Rob Badger’s set up for shooting a natural light wildflower portrait of a fairy slipper orchid (Calypso bulbosa) in 
Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County. Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

The creative process 

A critical aspect of Rob and Nita’s work is their insistence on photographing wildflowers without harming the plant or its surroundings. Limiting their impact on the land takes time. First, they find plants close to trails and roads where they can work with the least impact. If photographing a landscape or wildflower would damage the immediate area, they look for a better location. Then, after they’re done, they restore the rocks, twigs, and leaves to the way they found them.

Creating these beautiful images is physically demanding. Rob carries 65 pounds of gear, often to remote locations. For 30 minutes or more, he often finds himself precariously balanced over a blossom, or with his head on the ground for an eye-level perspective. Nita endures pins and needles in her limbs as she holds a reflector or wind barrier to create the necessary lighting or stillness. Despite the discomfort, the results are gloriously rewarding. These images reveal and celebrate the wonders seen in a grand floral landscape, or through the intimate and exquisite beauty of a single wildflower.

The photographers are partnering with the California Native Plant Society to co-publish a companion coffee table book. Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change will publish in spring of 2019.


Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium montanum) shot in the photographers’ native plant garden in Marin County. Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium montanum) shot in the photographers’ native plant garden in Marin County. Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

International award-winning photographers Rob Badger and Nita Winter have been life partners and creative collaborators for over three decades. After working on individual assignments for decades, the artists combined their talents. They are devoted to promoting and sustaining healthy communities, both human and natural, and reducing the impact and influence of climate change.

Last year, 52 of the original 100 images from the “Beauty and the Beast” project were selected for a traveling exhibit with Exhibit Envoy, a non-profit that produces exhibitions that reflect the richness of California’s arts, culture, and natural environment.

Present bookings include: 

Grace Hudson Museum, Ukiah, February through early May 2018 [extended through June 17, 2018]

Fullerton Arboretum, Fullerton, September and October 2018

Hi-Desert Nature Museum, Yucca Valley, January through March 10, 2019

The Bay Model, Sausalito, April and May 2019

A modified exhibit will run at the Gateway Science Museum, Chico, from June 2018 through January 2020. Learn more at www.winterbadger.com

Large-flowered linanthus (Leptosiphon grandiflorus syn. Linanthus grandiflorus). Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter

Large-flowered linanthus (Leptosiphon grandiflorus syn. Linanthus grandiflorus). Photo: Rob Badger & Nita Winter