Even beyond his death, Alex Trebek is making a difference, and is doing so for one Metchosin-born and Victoria-dwelling photographer.
TJ Watt—an old-growth activist and conservation photographer—received a grant named after the former Jeopardy! host to continue his work on a current series involving old-growth trees and logging effects.
See more: BC government says it could defer 2.6 million hectares of old-growth forest
The Trebek Initiative grant will support Watt’s “before” and “after” photos—a series that documents current old-growth logging in the Caycuse Valley of southern Vancouver Island.
Watt describes the series as “gut-wrenching” as it depicts trees before and after they are logged.
Watt told Victoria Buzz receiving the grant is a humbling experience, and he is honoured he is being supported.
“It[the grant] will allow me to continue to build on the success of the before and after series,” Watt said.
“Ideally, there would be no ‘after’ photos. But with this grant I can continue to bring people the shocking evidence of old-growth logging.”
With the grant, Watt intends to travel into more remote areas as well as catch more aerial images across sites of proposed clear-cutting.
While Watt is no stranger to old-growth advocacy – he is co-founder of the Ancient Forest Alliance – he said this series has been able to expand his reach in a digital age.
“Ultimately, people need to be educated on old-growth logging. Thankfully social media is where people get news, and photos say a thousand words; it can reach people,” Watt said.
“The series has been a huge catalyst for people to take action. It’s reached further and wider than we anticipated.”
While this series may be relatively new, Watt has been a photographer for over 20 years and been a conservation advocate since 2004. Luckily, the two interests overlap in what Watt calls a “perfect dovetail.”
“I’ve been shooting photos for 20 years, mostly involving nature. Around 2007 or 2008 conservation photography was a growing field.” said Watt.
“It was a perfect dovetail of all of my interests – using visual storytelling to bring about large-scale change.”
How Watt became a nationally-regarded photographer and activist he said occurred by “happenstance.”
“I wandered into the office of The Wilderness Committee in 2004 where Ken Wu, the previous director, saw I had a camera. He asked me to photograph a rally that day. After that, I went on a public hike on a trip to the Walbran valley,” Watt said.
“After seeing these cedar trees and on the other side with stumps clearcuts, I was shocked, and I took pictures. Those photos were published in local newspapers. It surprised me that there weren’t more people doing this work.”
From there Watt began dedicating his life’s work to have a message.
Watt has undertaken a project that juxtaposes the tragic beauty of old-growth trees on Vancouver Island; with this grant, he will continue to explore areas where potential logging will occur, and do so, unfiltered.
“The majority of old-growth logging is public, you’re free to explore. I’ll continue to create this series as long as there is logging,” Watt said.
“Photography is my most powerful tool in my toolbox. I’m not embellishing these photos. I show exactly what’s going on: taking the last portraits of old-growth trees.”
The irony for Watt is that, if he gets his wishes, there will be no ‘after’ photos, and he’ll be out of a job.