Dr. Edward Valeau first crossed our path in 2012, when Project WET staff traveled to Houston to take part in a water festival with the Houston Chapter of the National Basketball Retired Players Association. Friends with some of the players, Ed attended the festival and took pictures of the event, which he then generously shared. As Ed has moved away from his work as an educational consultant and strategist, he has kept in touch with us, passionate about our mission of water education. In 2013, Ed supported our program to bring rainwater harvesting to two schools in Kenya in cooperation with a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, and he has always expressed a desire to continue to support water education around the world.
Ed recently launched Valeau Photography with a show in San Francisco’s Mission District in May and has chosen Project WET as one of his nonprofit philanthropic partners. A portion of the proceeds generated from Valeau Photography’s sales will be donated to Project WET as part of Ed’s commitment to water and giving back to the community. We recently spoke to Ed about his life and art, as well as why he has chosen water education as one of his causes:
I grew up in Southwest Louisiana in a town called Patterson. At that time, it had about 2,500 people, but today the area has grown to include more than 6,000 inhabitants. Located in St. Mary Parish, the town sits on the banks of the Lower Atchafalaya River, which is an integral part of the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest wetland and swamp in the United States.
One of my first recollections is my childhood experience swimming in the Bayou Teche River. It is a body of clear, fresh water that was very cooling in the hot, sticky summers in Louisiana. Bayou Teche flows southward to meet the Lower Atchafalaya River at Patterson. When I return to Patterson even today, I always find time to sit on its banks. These memories are special but also painful. We swam in Bayou Teche because we were never allowed to swim in the public pools during my childhood and young adult years during the era of segregation.
I attended Hattie A. Watts High School, earning a high school diploma that read, “Graduate from an Approved Colored School.” I obtained my bachelor’s degree in English Education from Southern University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). From there, I went on to earn a master’s degree from California State University Hayward. I later enrolled at the University of Southern California for graduate studies and then went to the University of California Berkeley, where I earned a doctorate in Higher Education Administration and Organizational Planning and Development.
Along the way, I received honors as an American Council on Education Fellow, Fulbright Scholar and Paul Harris Fellow. I was also a recipient of the Association of California Community Colleges highest honor for leadership, the Harry Buttimer Distinguished Administrator Award. I ended my career as CEO Emeritus of Hartnell Community College in Salinas, California. During my tenure as a CEO, I served on the National Board of Directors for the American Association of Community Colleges, Chief Executive Board for CEOs of California Community Colleges and the Monterey County Foundation Board, to name a few. I am currently a board member for a start-up company called Wexus Technologies Inc. Wexus aims to reduce water and energy usage in the agricultural industry. I also serve as their educational advisor.
I am the author and co-author of several books and book chapters on leadership and international education in the area of community colleges and their global counterparts. I co-founded the ELS Group, a very successful search firm in Northern California, and I am founder of Valeau International and Associates, which does consulting work in education, strategic planning and leadership nationally and internationally. Currently, however, I am devoting my full energy and time to creating images through photography.
Whenever I’m asked about how long I have been doing photography, I always say “not long enough, because once engaged, the quest for the shot is endless.” But to be more precise, I started snapping pictures more than 20 years ago with very little attention to details such as light, color, shutter speed, ISO and metering. About 10 years ago, I decided to invest in the right equipment and re-educate my mind to photography’s many intricacies. I set about internalizing the aforementioned concepts, being careful to learn more about the camera and the art of capturing shots. My maturity has evolved to a point where I know the power of the camera and the role of the photographer as witness to a moment of truth at a certain time, in a specific place, with objects both animate and inanimate.
What excites me about photography is having the ability to see in ways that were not possible to me before. Everything in the universe follows lines and patterns influenced by light, depth and perception. I love that my awareness of what is around me is heightened. I am excited about seeing objects unfold every day and having the ability to photograph those things for others to see, have and admire. I am also fascinated with how stories can emerge from a single picture or set of pictures. I love the freedom photography offers because it is a solo act, and when you are in the moment, there is no outside distraction. Finally, I love photography for the ability it gives me to make a difference, at least on the level I have chosen: helping organizations that help others by giving a portion of my proceeds back.
For part of that program of giving back, I chose Project WET and water education around the world because I know from personal experience what it means to not have water or for it to be unclean. I cycled with a friend through various parts of West Africa in the mid-1990s, sleeping and eating in villages and drinking polluted water out of necessity. It was a life-altering experience mentally and physically. After getting sick, I knew that I could be cured, so the suffering was temporary. But I imagined the pain of having to drink something every day that is harming your health and life expectancy—whether knowingly or unknowingly. I learned quickly we cannot take water for granted nor can we afford for it to be polluted.
I was also significantly influenced a few years ago by Project WET’s creative and powerful approach to educating a traditionally disenfranchised group of students in an urban setting on a Historically Black College Campus in Texas. As a former secondary school teacher and professor, I appreciated how students were engaged and eager to learn about something they had no idea about and likely took for granted. I saw the importance of this work, and I saw the light bulbs switch on in the eyes of the students who were learning. I knew then that I wanted become involved and assist Project WET.
To learn more about Ed and see an online gallery of his photographs, visit the Valeau Photography website. Project WET is grateful for the support from Ed and Valeau Photography.