Augusto Gomes underlines the value of perseverance as a tool for scientists, and of photography as a tool to teach the public
By Jack Leeming
Ecologist Augusto Gomes is willing to wait for the right shot. This picture was taken underground in an ironstone cave, at Espinhaço mountain range, in a northern region of Minas Gerais state, Brazil. The entire area is a hotspot for biological diversity. Getting there involved 14 hours of travel. Taking the right photograph took another four hours. It was sent to Naturejobs as part of the #ScientistAtWork 2018 competition, which is open for entries until 31 March. You can find out more here.
“This was not a simple photo at all,” says Gomes, who grew up in Belo Horizonte, in the shadow of the southernmost point of the mountain range, and works at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.
The cave is hot — around 30 degrees Celsius — flooded and steamy enough that Gomes had to take his camera back out at one point, held over his head and though a narrow passage, to avoid long term damage. That’s what makes it such a great spot for the bats — two-to-three hundred — that fly around them. “Normally there are thirty to one-hundred” in any cave, Gomes says.
It’s cramped. “We have to squeeze in the mud,” says Gomes. “They’re not like limestone caves which you can walk through” and where he has spent most of his time underground as an ecologist.
Naturally, the cave is pitch-black. The light from this picture comes from other colleagues, who he says were kind enough to hold the lights for him for the four hours it took to take the photograph. To the left of Gomes’ subject — undergraduate student Matheus Evaristo — “there is an extremely poisonous snake, which scared us a little bit.”
So, what made Gomes and his colleagues sit in a dark, wet, narrow, hot, snake-and-bat-filled cave for four hours, waiting for a perfect photograph? Astonishingly, it wasn’t his PI – or even his research. Or, at least, it wasn’t for his research alone. Instead, he wanted to communicate what he loves about his work to others.
“I wanted to capture a moment that captures the feeling of a scientists being in a special place and discovering something” he says, “the feeling of being in that moment.”
He hopes his image — and others he has taken — will have a positive effect on the way people see the world around them. “For me, it leaves a message for the reader of that photo,” he says. “I always think about conservation — of the mountains, of the caves, of the bats. How do I pass a message to people about these interesting environments, and the life inside them?”
Gomes sees science — as a public funded body — as something that the people have a right to be educated about. “Many scientists are only interested in spreading results inside the scientific community,” he says. “This kind of research doesn’t reach society — they’re the ones that need that research.”
“I see in photography a really useful tool to talk to society about biodiversity and the problems faced by our animals, by our plants, by our nature. Photography for me is a democratic tool – everyone can understand it.”
Jack Leeming is the editor of Naturejobs.