Weight Watchers magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Theresa DiMasi discusses the natural world with Louie Schwartzberg, a cinematographer, director, and producer whose breathtaking imagery for feature films, television shows, documentaries, and commercials captures the beauty of nature and life.
What draws you to nature?
When I look at nature, I’m connecting with the deepest part of my soul because, basically, it’s a mirror of everything that is going on inside of my body. The rhythms, the patterns, the biological processes—they are all the same throughout the planet. And that is the connection we have with life; nature is life. Plants, animals, we’re all part of the living universe and we want to be connected with it. The microorganisms that live in our body, which help us digest food, are the same that are found in nature.
Why talk about this now?
Only in the last 100 years, since the industrial revolution, have we been separated from nature. Up until then, we were a part of nature, living off the land as hunter-gatherers. We looked to the land or the sky for sustainability and sustenance. We’ve always had a relationship with nature. But now we’re experiencing a disconnect in the brain and in our mind, and it can affect our health.
We have studies that show that people who live near parks live longer. People who have purpose in their life, who are happy, live longer. People in hospitals who can look out a window or walk through a garden heal faster. People have known this for ages. Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City and also lobbied the U.S. government to protect Yosemite, said that nature was critical for healthy living.
How does being in nature make you feel?
All the animals and plants that are alive have their own rhythms, their own metabolic rates. When we’re in nature, our body starts to move with the rhythm of nature and not technology. We become more present and mindful. It wipes away the cobwebs and the to-do list that builds up in our everyday routine. Just look at the color patterns of flowers that seduce bees; they attract me, too. Nature freezes us in our path and connects us with something deep within our heart, with a universal vibration that is all about love.
What has the natural world taught you?
Using my camera as a tool to witness the portals of time, space, and scale has opened my eyes to a wider and deeper universe. I want to celebrate life in all of its forms, starting with a bee pollinating a flower that gives us food, fruit, nuts—the most nutritious food on the planet. When I observe that interaction, I have a deep appreciation and gratitude for that process. Not only does it give us food, but also without these pollinators, the plants wouldn’t be able to reproduce. We would have zero energy on our planet. We wouldn’t be able to capture the sun’s energy that creates food and fuel and medicine and shelter. So rather than just saying, “Oh, look at the pretty flower and look at the bee,” I do a deep dive and really observe. That’s what scientists do as well. It’s their sense of wonder that creates curiosity, and curiosity asks questions that you want to learn about the living universe, about the living planet. And you have to approach that with a blank mind. Not that you know it all; not that you learned it in school. You have to have a blank mind to be really open. To me, that is being connected in a living universe.
In all the observations you’ve made about nature, have there been any that have particularly struck you? Moments of love and respect in the animal and plant kingdoms?
We were shooting bumblebees—and they’re the only bees that pollinate tomatoes. They grab on to the tomato flower and they vibrate their wings at a cycle. It’s about 440 cycles per second, which is the same as the “A” note. It’s that vibration that makes the pollen come out. And to realize that, and to see that by filming in slow motion; to be able to see it slow down while you’re watching the bee hang on to the flower and vibrate its shoulders—which are the wings—and it creates this vibration, and you are going, “Oh my God, this is just like the miracle.” And so, we took a tuning fork and hit the exact same “A” note, which works to tune your instrument, too. We took a tuning fork, tapped it, and touched the flower and the pollen came out. It was the only way it would give us the pollen. It’s like a woman who isn’t going to allow herself to go all the way unless she has the right suitor. How beautiful? It’s kind of a metaphor: Wow, that’s happening in the bee world, and it’s really not that different in our world. We pick the person we really want to have a family with. It’s got to be the right person, the right vibe.
Tell me about visual healing?
Of all these modalities for healing—massage, healthy eating, audiotapes, music, aromatherapy—we approach all the senses except for the one that’s most vital: the eyes. I believe that vision is critical: 80 percent of the information we receive comes into our eyes. It’s a direct connection to the brain and the mind, and what I’m creating is this thing called visual healing. We’re putting it into hospitality, retreat centers, and hospitals because it really has the power to heal.
Anything ugly or brutal in nature?
It’s not all lovey-dovey Pollyanna stuff. There is an element of survival of the fittest as well. Depending on your perspective, you might say I can’t look at that lion chasing down that baby deer. But that’s part of life, too. Life is about DNA moving forward. And what’s unfortunate is that the only story that has been told about nature is a very male-dominated one about the survival of the fittest: predator versus prey and dog eat dog. There’s a part of that, yes, just like in anything you talk about there’s a yin-yang, two sides to everything. That’s one part of the story.
But the biggest part of the story, the ultimate part of the story, is about the millions of little guys that create the symbiotic relationships. The zillions of ants under the ground. The biomass of the planet is insects and plants, much more than mammals. Fifty percent of the biomass of the earth is plants; I think 25 to 30 percent are insects—it’s enormous. And they’re all interacting in ways that are more complex than any of us can even understand. So the real story is the feminine story, which is symbiosis, symbiotic relationships, mutually beneficial relationships, teamwork, cooperation. That’s how not only ecosystems flourish, but how families flourish, businesses flourish. And that’s been the missing story, and that’s the story I’m trying to tell.
That’s why I do a film on pollinators, that’s why I’m doing a film on fungi. Twenty-five percent of your body is fungi and we think, “Fungi is weird, get rid of it; bacteria, get rid of it, antibiotics.” But we need certain bacteria in our body in order to live. We don’t understand that. That’s another example of mutualistic ecosystems. Your body is a giant ecosystem: You’ve got a fungi thing going, you’ve got a bacteria thing going. You have millions of cells doing all kinds of functions. They’re not even “you”—and they’re all getting along. And they all need each other. And they all work well together in order to create you. You’re not even having to do anything. You’re like the Milky Way, walking around. There are a trillion cells in your body.
That’s what I’m trying to do that’s different: Opening up the worldview to see that appreciating the little things is as important as other values. Symbiotic relationships, mutualism, teamwork, cooperation—these are all wonderful values. Don’t harm your neighbor: the golden rule. That’s how ecosystems flourish. Even in nature, we have predator versus prey. They’re typically going after the sick and the old. But they respect each other—they’re not trying to wipe each other out, because if they do, their food source is gone. They have to learn how to nurture and nourish each other.
How does diversity come into play?
It’s like a three-legged stool: diversity, survival, and beauty. They all work together. Beauty is the score, nature’s operating instruction. You like this guy more than this other guy; it’s nature trying to get you to make more DNA. It’s not cookie cutter. It all goes under the umbrella of conscious evolution. So that your children will be more evolved on a conscious level and on a physical level. Diversity is a wonderful thing. The different forms of lives somewhat ensure that life will go forward. Beauty is the instruction, survival is the fact that life is a force of energy, and it’s going forward. And diversity is the selection process that wants the most evolved living thing to come out of that effort and flourish.
Want to see Louie Schwartzberg’s work? Head to MovingArt.com to learn more about visual healing, and view his jaw-dropping images of nature.