Photographing God’s creation
Ron Neller interviews ecologist, explorer, author, and nature photographer Bill Boehm
William D. (Bill) Boehm has a B.S. in forest science and an M.S. in wildlife science from the University of Washington. He is a retired scientist, explorer, award-winning photographer, author, and educator. His photographs from around the world have been published by National Geographic, Time-Life, Smithsonian, International Wildlife, Audubon, and others, as well as being included in many books. He lives mostly in Singapore with his wife Djainiaty, though he is also partly based in Bellingham, Washington State.
I had the opportunity to finally meet Bill Boehm while on a ministry trip to Singapore in 2019. We had previously communicated by email and telephone. So I knew of his love of the Creator, and his passion for exploring His creation in remote wild areas throughout the world.
Indeed, Bill spends much of his time in true wilderness areas. When we met, he had just returned from China, this time exploring the plains and mountains of Eastern Tibet to photograph snow leopards.
But what led him to explore remote locations for over 50 years?
Bill was born in Bay City, Michigan, then later moved to Seattle, with “parents whom one could describe as wounded and broken more than most.” He experienced painful times, and many feelings of isolation and loneliness during his late childhood and into his teenage years. Hearing details of his journey touched me deeply, as I was raised in similar circumstances. For both of us, receiving Christ and His forgiveness allowed us to forgive and overcome the legacy of past abuses. But, Bill says:
Since both my parents believed in the Lord and His Word, they tried to keep their marriage together and to love us. And the Lord made Himself known to me as a truly loving Father, even through this difficult and painful period.
And he felt comforted on trips with his family in the mountains. It was there that he would see his parents come together and find some rest from their hectic work and responsibilities.
After finishing a Forest Science degree in 1968, during the Vietnam war era, Bill was drafted into the military. He was sent to serve in the demilitarized zone near Panmunjom, South Korea. His brigade commander there, a colonel and a fellow Christian, inspired Bill in his faith. He asked Bill to develop an athletic program to help calm racial issues and tensions from North Korean patrols, and to build morale.
Upon his return to the United States, Bill was accepted into graduate school at the University of Washington, where he obtained a Master of Science degree in wildlife science. In his graduate-level zoology classes, he was concerned at the promotion of evolution by his major professor and that professor’s committee. He believed that the Book of Genesis was an accurate description of the creation of our world. He explains:
We had to navigate through the book Animal Species and Evolution by Ernst Mayr, one of the pioneers of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. But even after that, it made no sense that new kinds of organisms could arise by random mutations and natural selection.
Upon completing his degree Bill worked as a park ranger at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. This is a truly spectacular landscape, a World Heritage site of beauty and solitude with abundant plant life, wildlife, and tidewater glaciers. Bill says he was “awestruck with wonder”. In 1975 this inspired him to write his book Glacier Bay; Old Ice New Land, containing 270 beautiful photographs. It was reprinted four times, then rewritten and published again in 2014. “I dedicated this book to the Lord as Creator.”
In 1985 Bill returned to Seattle and became a teacher for many years, teaching science at a Christian high school. In 1990 he received the Tandy Scholarship Teacher of the Year award.
Bill describes his work:
I loved teaching and sharing God’s creative hand. I challenged my students in physics, chemistry, and biology to research various theories of origins in more depth—to carefully examine the Darwinian worldview. Compared to today, there were few creation resources for Christians then.
In 1991, Bill returned to natural resource management. He was a senior environmental scientist with the King County Department of Natural Resources, with a focus on wetland and salmon river habitat restoration.
Neither employment as an ecologist nor as a teacher restrained his love of natural history and of landscape and wildlife photography. Throughout his working life, as well as in his current ‘retirement’, he has organized and documented expeditions and trips to remote areas worldwide. These include the Congo, Peruvian tropical rainforests, Australasia, the Arctic Archipelago, Nepal, and the Tibetan Highlands. He has also participated as a naturalist and lecturer in International Expeditions and Lindblad/National Geographic Expeditions. He has delivered talks to such bodies as the Californian Academy of Sciences and the University of Washington, and has been a workshop presenter in tropical rainforest ecology and photography. He further provided photographs to National Geographic for special book publications, and to National Geographic World, Smithsonian Magazine, Time-Life books and many more publishers.
Glorifying the Lord as designer and Creator is an important foundation to Bill’s faith and very significant in his study and research. He says this attitude was nurtured by his Christian parents:
They encouraged me and instilled in me a desire to explore and see the complexity and diversity of the natural world. It reflects our Lord’s amazing creativity.
This was further fostered by meeting creation scientists in Canada, the USA, and Australia. He elaborates:
God created us to perceive beauty, design, and intelligent action with our sense organs. From the music of Mozart and Handel to the colour of a Bierstadt1 painting, we can appreciate and see human creativity. And God’s creative palette and symphony also—in an alpine field of blooming flowers, a sunset on the ocean, a sky filled with dramatic clouds, the laughter of children playing, the morning song of a thrush. These all reflect not only the scientific but also the non-material aspects of God’s creative hand.
Bill continues to travel and photograph in difficult and challenging regions. He was once stalked by a polar bear in the Canadian Arctic, charged by a forest elephant in the Congo, and had a close-up meeting with lowland gorillas in Gabon.
I asked him how his studies in ecology and photography deepened his love of Christ and his appreciation of creation. Bill responded:
Jesus makes continual use of nature in His parables that welcome us to find life with Him in the Kingdom of God. The revelation of God in nature is so profound that the Apostle Paul cautions that if we do not notice and honour our Creator, we are without excuse, as per Romans 1:20.
My photography and writing are tools that convey and express the wonder, design, and beauty seen within the Lord’s creation of the natural world. My passion, using composition, colour and lighting in my photographs, is to capture images that will hopefully demonstrate God’s revelation of Himself through His creation, and ultimately in His Word. Jesus was the master storyteller with parables, and storytelling has been essential in sharing experiences that glorify Him. I desire to create and capture that sense of wonder we have as children and to be able to show God’s creativity, within a fallen world of suffering, evil and pain. I believe we see a reflection of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the love relationship between them—through beauty in this world.
Bill is close to finishing another book. This one is on Manu National Park, a remote part of the Peruvian rainforest.
Of course, many of Bill’s colleagues during his career believed in evolution, which sometimes led to arguments. He laments:
I am concerned that the university climate today does not emphasize a respectful debate as it did in my time 50 years ago. Today, it is stifled by bullying, identity politics, and personal attacks. Such tactics only demonstrate that the facts, and the beauty of truth, are not sought any more. Rather, it is all about dogma, and alignment on ‘sides’.
Aware of this trend in our culture, Bill frequently refers people to creation.com. He says:
I believe that the well-written items on this site by the Creation Ministries International team help stimulate nonbelievers to reconsider a created world. This was made by our Maker and Designer, our Father God who is personal, relational, and loves His believing children.
References and notes
- Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), famous for his landscapes of the American West. Return to text.