I want my images to make people care. I want to move people away from apathy and into action. I want people to be so overwhelmed by emotion that they are inspired to, first of all, be aware of what impact their choices have on our environment, and then make some changes that are in alignment with sustainability and climate changes solutions.”  ~ Cristina Mittermeier

Three weeks ago, I was planning one of the most important exhibitions in the history of my gallery. It was a show that was to be an expression of my values, my goals, my aspirations and inspirations. The public opening was to be on April 3rd, with private VIP dinners, press conferences, TV, radio and magazine interviews, lectures and book signings the days before the opening.


So much went into the planning. Invitations, posters and large outdoor banners, artwork was being framed, the gallery walls painted, caterers, flowers, tables and chairs. Every show was like planning an artsy wedding.

You wonder why all this fanfare for an art exhibition. Isn’t it enough to just show the art on a wall? Of course, it is. Shouldn’t the art speak for itself? As an artist, I certainly know that it must and it should. But as a gallerist, I also know that allowing the artist and collector to “break bread” so to speak, gives them more of an opportunity to know one another, to understand one another, to trust one another. It becomes an intimate experience with a memorable communication.

But sometimes, as Robert Burns wrote in 1785, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” And so, it was that the world decided to take a pause and ground everyone in their homes to wait out a possible infection of a virus that was attacking the humanity of planet earth.

Of course, when things don’t go as planned, those of us who do not believe in failure make other plans! So, we decided to do a live stream broadcast series from our gallery and interview the artists in their own home, in real time, up close and personal, as we made plans to release our first HILTON | ASMUS LIVE broadcast series.  We could share the artist’s perspective to understand how the creative mind is coping with and embracing this time of imposed isolation. 

In the meantime, so that we could stream the exhibition from the gallery, we chose a navy-blue shade of paint called “Naval” (which was heralded as the 2020 color of the year) for our walls to enhance the marine inspired photography for our upcoming spring exhibition titled ORIGINS.

Canadian-born Arctic explorer Paul Nicklen, one of the most renowned National Geographic photographers in the world, and TED Talk favorite with 6.4 million Instagram followers, and arguably one of the finest photographers in the field of conservation photography, was joined by his partner (in work and life) Cristina Mittermeier, the other star of this dynamic duo.

Photo: Cristina Mittermeier

Mexico-born Cristina was named National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year and Woman of Impact in 2018.

Along with Paul Nicklen, she is co-founder of Sea Legacy, a film and storytelling platform dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans.

As a woman and as an artist, it is important for me to find other women who can inspire AND challenge me to be a better version of myself. The more I learned about Cristina, the more fueled I became to better my own conservation efforts. When I saw her in “She’s Mercedes,” a short film from the Mercedes-Benz platform dedicated to inspiring, connecting and empowering women to be their best, Cristina’s words made me want to jump into the ocean and embrace a whale!

She states, “Even though sometimes the waves are massive, I am never afraid of drowning…The only thing we have to understand is that we have to be brave….Don’t listen to the voices in your head and tell you your dreams are not for girls. That you are not strong enough, not brave enough, not smart enough. Instead, imagine taking those voices to the edge of a cliff and throwing them over. It takes a lot of courage to take the more difficult path. Do it anyway, defy the norm! Ask yourself, am I blazing a trail for young women behind me?”

Blue Gulf, Photo credit: Cristina Mittermeier

I wonder if being a marine biologist has steered Cristina’s photography in the conservation direction like the sail of a boat. Her latest fine art photograph, called “Blue Gulf,” emphasizes the relationship with water and climate change. It is a photo of a small dhow riding the wind on a patchwork sail across the Gulf of Guinea on the southern coast of Ghana.

Cristina states, “the distance between this traditional sailboat and its destination is representative of the gulf we still need to cross to ensure there is enough clean water for everyone. It is important to understand the link between water and climate change. A changing climate not only means more dramatic weather events, droughts, and a change in rain patterns, but a planet out of balance means that fresh, safe water will become even more scarce as the world transforms around us.”

Cristina is an inspiration to us all for her tireless work in bringing awareness to the issues that plague our planet, our oceans and our humanity. Bravo to this “woman of impact” for bringing us stories through her photography and film.

Stay tuned for Part II of Cristina Mittermeier’s exploration of our planet and how she has traveled to over 100 countries and turned conservation photography into a movement. We will talk about the Ocean School, the Coral Gardeners, the life of a herring and her work with Sea Legacy.

Until then, stay safe and be well….

~Arica Hilton

President & Founder, Hilton Asmus

April 2020

Cristina is a Sony Artisan of Imagery; founder of the International League of Conservation Photographers; recognized as one of the World’s top 40 Most Influential Outdoor Photographers by Outdoor Magazine; and has been published in countless publications such as National Geographic, McLean’s, Playboy and Time Magazine.

Arica Hilton

Author Arica Hilton

Arica is a Chicago-based, multi-media artist born on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. She studied architecture & design and has worked as a gallerist, interior designer, poet and artist since 1985. Formerly the president of the board of the Poetry Center of Chicago, she was voted one of the LIT 50: Who Really Books in Chicago by New City. Her works have been featured in numerous magazines and publications including Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business and Astronomy Magazine.

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