Ben Horton – Age 24, Unites States
Recipient of the National Geographic Society’s first Young Explorer award for research he recently completed on Cocos Island involving shark poachers, Ben is a budding photographer and adventurer. Ben is motivated by travel and extreme sports with a yearning to make a difference for his generation. At 17, he traveled around the world with his brother, visiting numerous countries and living the adventures he and his brother had dreamed of. Ben splits his time between Colorado and the rest of the world.
REFLECTIONS OF A YOUNG EXPLORER, by Ben Horton
Exploration is an exciting word for me. It involves so many different activities and challenges, waiting to be overcome. As a child, I remember walking into the kitchen and telling my mom with a touch of pride, that I was going “exploring.” I had no idea what I was going to find, or where I would end up. All I knew, was that I was going.
That feeling hasn’t changed much. Perhaps the only difference is that now my expeditions have a little bit more planning, but only a little bit more. In our modern world, most people are under the impression that there isn’t anywhere left to explore except perhaps for outer space. Even on our planet, there are regions that have seen fewer footprints than the moon. There are mountains in the Himalayas that have never been climbed, and mountains under the surface of the ocean, where no one has dived.
Our planet is full of secrets, waiting to be discovered. For a while, when I was a teenager, I explored rivers and mountains. I kayaked and snowboarded in places people had never been before. I was a professional athlete and I learned that sometimes 20 minutes from a city, a canyon can be cut off from people by something as simple as a waterfall, and a mountain, can be tucked away into a mountain range, invisible to us except from the air.
For me, the sad truth is that there is a good chance most of our world’s secrets will disappear before they are even discovered. Think of the animal species that are alive now, that may soon become extinct! Or the plant that is about to be wiped out in the Amazon by clear-cutting. For me this has shaped what it means to be an explorer in 2008. To be an explorer is no longer to be one of the first people to find a place or a thing. It is to be one of the last. This is why we need a new generation of explorers, to find these things and document them before they are gone.
Sometimes when I am in these remote regions of the planet, it is hard to pick out a single thing to focus on. On my trip to Cocos Island, there were flowers that nobody had ever seen before; trees that had no name. Just off shore, men in fishing boats where sneaking into the park to fish illegally for shark. To me the flowers and trees had an incredible beauty, but the story of what was happening to the sharks was more personal, because I grew up in the ocean. So that was what I decided to spend my time covering, and that experience has shaped my life.
It’s hard for me sometimes to write about these experiences, because as a photographer, I’ve focused all of my thoughts on getting an image that will explain the story. I consider my photography to be a journal of sorts. When I get home, I usually make a book of photographs that I can flip through and stories from the adventure will come back to me.