Douglas R. Tompkins: On Beauty


The late conservationist Doug Tompkins was inspired by many notable environmentalists, including David Brower; in fact, Doug often quoted Brower in saying that his conservation work was “to pay my rent for living on the planet.” In 2008, the American Alpine Club awarded Doug the David R. Brower Award for his work preserving mountain regions. Additionally, Brower’s pioneering use of large-format photo books in the 1960s – to bolster the Sierra Club’s environmental campaigns – was carried on by Doug through his publishing efforts as part of his Foundation for Deep Ecology.

In March, the Chilean government announced the creation of 11 million acres of new national parks. That historic agreement was the culmination of Doug’s visionary land conservation work begun in the early 1990s. Creating national parks of that magnitude would have been enough accomplishment for anyone but, in Doug’s case, it followed the founding of The North Face and Esprit companies, legendary first descents of many wild rivers, first ascents of mountains on multiple continents, against-all-odds activist successes, and a life of relentless action.

This fall, the David Brower Center is honoring Doug’s life and work with Douglas R. Tompkins – On Beauty, a photography exhibition and accompanying book. The project will consider how the pursuit of beauty became a central, animating force in Doug’s intellectual development and informed his entire worldview. The exhibition and book also will explore several key themes: how the diversity of life emerges from beauty; how beauty and ecological health are intrinsically linked; and how Doug’s personal narrative intersects with conservation history, especially at this particular moment in humanity as we face a collapsing biosphere.


Every fall, the David Brower Center presents the Art/Act Award & Exhibition, created to honor individuals who have dedicated a significant part of their lives to making art that inspires environmental advocacy and engagement.

Douglas R. Tompkins: On Beauty is made possible through the generosity of Mimi & Peter Buckley, JAF Foundation – Anke and Jürgen Friedrich, Hans Schoepflin, Nancy G. Schaub, and the Weeden Foundation.