Grange Audubon displays 'Conservation Through a Lens’

Thomas Worthington grad Justin Grubb’s beautiful wildlife photos tell stories of conservation from around the world

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
"The Forgotten Wolf?" section of "Conservation Through a Lens," photos by Justin Grubb on display at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center

When Justin Grubb was growing up in Worthington, he had a creek in his backyard where he would go exploring and catch fish, frogs and tadpoles. These days, Grubb is still pursuing his fascination with nature, but as a wildlife filmmaker and photographer, his play area now stretches across the globe.  

For the first time, Grubb is displaying his photography work in an exhibition, “Conservation Through a Lens,” on view now through June 18 at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, and afterward from July 12 through Sept. 2 at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington. The photos are also for sale, with all proceeds going to the Audubon Center and other conservation organizations. 

Red-eyed brook frog

The exhibition is more than photos, though. Grubb includes text with more information about the animals and specific conservation efforts, along with QR codes that link to documentaries made by Grubb and his Running Wild Media partner, Alex Goetz. The Grange Audubon Center is also hosting a series of workshops with Grubb, including an introduction to wildlife photography on Thursday, May 20, from 7 to 9 p.m., and on Friday, May 21, from noon to 2 p.m. (Tickets are available here.) 

Grubb’s journey to globe-trotting wildlife photographer and conservationist originated in his backyard, then grew during his years at Thomas Worthington High School, where he spent half of his days at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium through a Delaware Area Career Center program. Grubb then went to Bowling Green, where he met Goetz and graduated with a marine biology degree in 2014.  

A stint as a biologist at the Toledo Zoo led Grubb into science communication, which motivated him to not merely share beautiful photos and videos of the natural world, but also to spur viewers to take steps toward protecting the creatures he documents. In “Conservation Through a Lens,” Grubb includes a section titled “The Forgotten Wolf?” which centers on the red wolf. The rarest canid in the world, it lives here in the United States, though fewer than 30 remain. For those who want to take a deeper dive, a QR code links to a 24-minute film about the red wolf.  

“The Hall of Threatened Species” highlights other rare and endangered creatures, including the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. “It's the first animal you see when you start that hallway, and that's probably the most critically endangered bird in the United States,” Grubb said.  

Florida Grasshopper Sparrow

Another section, “Planet Indonesia,” features photos of orangutans, proboscis monkeys and frogs, with a focus on community conservation. “When you take care of the needs of people, then you can start taking care of the needs of wildlife. Otherwise, you're going to have repeat issues where people are exploiting nature in order to survive,” Grubb said. “You could do all the releases and all the restoration projects you want, but if people are starving, they're going to take the fruit off the trees and they're going to shoot the animals out of the trees. So you have to take care of the people.”

In the workshops, Grubb hopes to fill in some of the knowledge gaps for aspiring wildlife photographers, beginning with an emphasis on caution around wild animals. “I know people want to go out and they want to get the photo, but sometimes it's to the detriment of the animal,” Grubb said. “Typically, every encounter you have with a wild animal reduces their survivability significantly right after your encounter because they're stressed, they're vomiting food, they're pooping — all of these things reduce their ability to survive. So minimizing that is one of the biggest things about wildlife photography.” 

Once the correct philosophy and mindset is in place, Grubb provides more technical pointers, like shooting at the creature’s eye level, which builds empathy with the animal and makes for a more compelling photograph. “Otherwise, you're going to be showing an animal from a perspective that everybody sees all the time,” he said. “I'll see amateur photographers take a photo of a turtle, and they just stand and there and shoot the turtle. … [Instead], you want to get on your belly and photograph it right in the face and get the eyes.” 

According to Grubb, there should also be a deeper meaning behind the photographs. “What story do you want to tell about the animal?” he said. “You're not just taking a photo. You're trying to convey some sort of message.”