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Have you had the chance to dive beneath the surface of the photographs in the Memorial Library lobby? If not, you might enjoy the journey.

“Under the Surface: A Photographic Journey of Hope and Healing” is a University of Wisconsin Sea Grant education project. In fact, the Sea Grant funding purchased the prints for not only the exhibit in Memorial, but for future showings as well.

“This exhibit and other arts-related projects are part of the Water Library’s outreach mission to use the arts and humanities to achieve a science-inspired society,” explained Anne Moser, the Wisconsin Water Library Senior Special Librarian. “The obvious parallels with the 2018-2019 Go Big Read book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, and the fact that all of the photos included in the exhibit were taken around the Lake Superior watershed, made this a natural partnership.”

Additionally, since the Libraries provide leadership for the Chancellor’s Go Big Read program, and Memorial Library is the hub for humanities and social science research on campus, the location for this iteration of the exhibit made perfect sense. The exhibit photos were curated and placed by Anne Moser and Morgan Witte, Project Assistant Librarian at the Wisconsin Water Library.

According to Toben Lafrancois, an aquatic scientist at Northland College in Ashland Wisconsin, the origin of the photos in the exhibit date back approximately four years. Lafrancois came across these photos taken by clients of a northern Wisconsin residential treatment program called Northwest Passage. He explained the photos were better than any he had seen professionally. “I thought, this is what’s missing from getting people to care about the freshwater ecosystem,” Lafrancois said. “People need to see under the surface. Scientific presentations and data are fine, but it’s not all that effective in getting people to care about the water.”

Underwater photography is being used to engage troubled children in residence at Northwest Passage as one of the methods for therapy. Wisconsin Sea Grant provided funding to connect the photography to freshwater science in the classroom. The project’s impact is noticeable. Staff and teachers at have noticed changes in the children’s behavior and classroom interest. “A kid will have a great day and be all smiley,” Lafrancois said. “Then the staff will come to me and say, ‘You know, that young lady doesn’t smile, and she just smiled all day.’ The kids will ask graduate-level questions like, what would happen to the ecosystem if all the bryozoans died out? What would happen to a river if all the trees were cut down – things we can guess about but honestly just don’t always have an answer for. As a society, we really should be looking for those answers if we value fresh water.”

From what the team has noticed so far, the initiative is showing great success and the founders are working to expand its reach to youth in coastal communities. They hope to produce photography shows in local galleries, and share their stories and pictures with the community.

“Career-wise, it’s the perfect thing because it puts all my skills to work,” noted Lafrancois. “It combines underwater exploration, and half the questions the kids ask, I cannot answer as a scientist. Just being with these kids is the best thing in my professional life. I love being with them and playing in the water.”

Find more information here “Under the Surface: A Photographic Journey of Hope and Healing” here.

More information about the great work at Northwest Passage can be found here.

Wisconsin Sea Grant has a wealth of information on the Great Lakes here.

For more information and for information about hosting this exhibit in your community, contact Anne Moser at akmoser@aqua.wisc.edu