Recent Nazareth graduate Lauren McLaughlin '10 is on the final leg of an amazing cross continent journey as the production assistant of Alexandra Cousteau (granddaughter of legendary marine explorer Jacques Cousteau). McLaughlin is a member of Cousteau's "Expedition Blue Planet," a trip sponsored in part by National Geographic. McLaughlin and the team are nearing the end of the 14,500 mile voyage across North America. They spent the past six months bringing attention to critical water issues, and the expedition crew produced a series of short on-line films during the trip which will become a comprehensive film for broadcast next year. We spoke with McLaughlin while she was on the road, and she answered some questions about her once in a lifetime experience.
Where are you traveling for Expedition Blue Planet?
Our first leg was on the Colorado River and water use and management... so we traveled down from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains, all the way down to Mexico where the river is cut short. Then it was on to Yuma, AZ and Mexico to see where the river ends completely before reaching the sea. In Las Vegas we looked at water usage in casinos. Next, it's on to the Gulf States and Tennessee Valley to look at our impact on water, and then finally we'll head back east to visit the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay.
How did you find out about the expedition?
I heard about Blue Legacy through Xerox, one of the expedition sponsors. I was first introduced to executive producer Jonathan Smith, and I expressed my interest in photojournalism and their conservation and education work. I sent my portfolio and resume, had a phone interview, and discussed when I would be able to meet up with them. I flew down to Washington, D.C., and the expedition officially began on July 1. I was originally only going to be staying on for a few weeks, but by the end of that period they invited me to stay on for the whole time.
What are your duties as production assistant?
As the production assistant intern I do a lot of odd-jobs, including taking photos, editing, uploading, some graphic design, helping to manage the website and online galleries, blogging/social media stuff, and more. And then of course I do a lot of office work and act as the "go-fer" a lot of the time. I pretty much help out wherever help is needed. The days can be very busy, but it's all worth it!
What are some of the most surprising things you've learned on your trip so far?
Before going on expedition I never really realized how much work it is, and it's quite interesting to compare Jacques Cousteau's expeditions to Alexandra's. Without all the technological advances we have today, expedition in the days of Jacques Cousteau would have been incredibly taxing. Jacques traveled by boat, we travel by bus. Jacques would spend years at a time at sea, filming and exploring constantly, without the ease of access to the world we have. We've made it so you don't just hear about our expedition, but you can follow along with us daily online. (AlexandraCousteau.org) In some ways that makes expeditions today harder because there are so many outlets we use to share our experiences with the world.
Also, I knew going into this that our world's water is in peril in many places, but I never realized the situation right here in North America. The Colorado River doesn't even reach the sea anymore, as its waters have been exhausted even at its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains. And now with the gulf oil spill, it has impacted an area that had already been suffering as a result of the "dead zone." It's been interesting to see how it's affected the fishermen in the gulf. The ecosystem is even more damaged now. But the good news is that that crab fishing has been opened up once again. So I think there is actually hope beginning to surface from this crisis.
Do you have any favorite spots that you've traveled?
Every place we've gone to I'd never been to before, so every location has been a different experience! But I think so far visiting the Rocky Mountains in Estes Park is up there in favorites. The views were wonderful, the wildlife was great (now I can say I've seen a moose in the wild!), and the people we met there were really cool and interesting. Yuma, AZ was also a really interesting contrast to any place I've seen. It's known for being the hottest city in the world, and I have no doubt in that! The landscape was like a desert. I actually wrote a blog post for the website (August 12).
What do you think your next step will be after the expedition ends in November?
I plan on returning to Rochester and applying for studio and freelance positions in the Rochester area and will begin applying to grad schools for next fall. I want to travel out west, California being my number one choice, so I'll be working until next fall to save up money for the move out there.
How did Nazareth prepare you for this first step in your career?
Nazareth definitely prepared me in a lot of ways. My art classes prepared me in the creative sense, fine tuning my style and aesthetic sense in the graphic design and photography I've done. I think my time at Nazareth also really helped "break me out of my shell," so to speak. The experiences and interactions at Nazareth, along with taking some liberal arts classes, have given me a "rounded education" in a lot of ways. I apply tons of what I've learned in my classes, especially psychology and philosophy, to how I deal with daily experiences and also to my concepts and ideas in my photographs. The challenges and rewards from Nazareth have given me the courage to open my eyes to experiences elsewhere, and as a result I feel very comfortable being part of this expedition.
Images © Blue Legacy/Ali Sanderson