By Elizabeth M. Jarrell
Written and originally published for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, October 28, 2014
On September 18, 2014, award-winning cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg presented an Exploring Leadership Colloquium on “Enhance Your Leadership with the Gift of Gratitude.” Through “the lens of gratitude” and with an inquisitive mind, his work focuses on the intersection of science, art and technology to reveal the extraordinary natural beauty hidden within our seemingly ordinary world. To Schwartzberg, appreciating nature’s beauty cultivates mindfulness and gratitude in our daily lives, connecting our hearts and our minds. With gratitude, we become more willing to protect our planet, encouraging life to thrive.
Before the talk, the civil servants in the audience received complimentary copies of Schwartzberg’s book, written in collaboration with Brother David Steindl-Rast, “A Good Day: A Gift of Gratitude.” Schwartzberg grew up in Brooklyn. His parents, Holocaust survivors, instilled in him a deep sense of gratitude. He dedicated the book to his parents: “They taught me to appreciate the little things in life, like food on the table, a roof over your head and the blessings of having children.”
Gail Williams, program manager of the Exploring Leadership Colloquia Series, and Dot Zukor, Associate Director of the Earth Sciences Division, Science Exploration Directorate, introduced Schwartzberg as someone who speaks to emotional, spiritual and visceral levels. The filled-to-capacity auditorium included colleagues from other agencies, and other private and public sector organizations.
Schwartzberg opened by saying that he loves working with scientists because, like him, they have a sense of wonder and awe, and want to inspire children. Constantly curious, he continuously asks “why?” Unlike scientists, he recognizes that he has the creative liberty to tell the story he wants to tell.
To Schwartzberg, cinematography is “all about the resolution, to reveal beyond what the human eye can see.” He turned to time-lapse photography, later introducing high-speed and macro elements, because he initially couldn’t’t afford enough film. Known for his time-lapse films of nature, especially flowers, he has been rolling his cameras 24/7 for over three decades.
“I squeezed 35 years into 12 hours to show the world from a flower’s point of view,” said Schwartzberg. He delights in making the invisible visible, revealing the mysteries of the unseen world. Time lapse allows him to show our planet in motion, to discover our very humanity. “People go about their lives surrounded by things they cannot see,” he said.
His film “Wings of Life,” in which Meryl Streep is the voiceover of a flower, examines the relationship between pollinators including bees, bats and butterflies, and the flowers they pollinate. Through his eyes, these creatures appear to be swimming through the air. His film doesn’t feature just any bat. He filmed a nectar-eating bat pollinating a flower in the Sonoma Valley while breastfeeding an hour-old baby. Disney Nature released “Wings of Life” in 2013.
“The true story of nature, I believe, is about collaboration. Nothing in this world exists alone. Beauty is nature’s tool for survival because we are hardwired to respond to beauty, to fall in love and protect it,” said Schwartzberg. His mission is to reveal the beauty of nature, to make us fall in love and become better stewards of our world.
Schwartzberg recently created a film, narrated by Morgan Freeman and scored by Hans Zimmer, to open the United Nations Climate Summit on September 23, 2014. While speaking to the Goddard audience, he offered a sneak preview both of the film the U.N. will screen and of the film he wanted to make, which the audience preferred. The film represents 30 years of his work. He used footage from his archives, for which he retained rights and was supported by Goddard’s Science Visualization Studio. The film is available on his website. “Our only hope is to use our creativity and imagination to solve the problem of climate change,” said Schwartzberg.
After the talk, Schwartzberg autographed complimentary copies of his book. He further explains his parent’s influence in the Afterword: “Through their eyes, I learned that even the smallest things—and the ordinary things—are all worthy of celebrating through the lens of gratitude.” His personalized inscription “Celebrate Life!” was dated “Forever.” Schwartzberg has given successful TED talks on “The hidden beauty of pollination,” “Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.” and “Hidden miracles of the natural world.”