Alumni Profile: Sandra Brierley

When Sandra Brierley, class of 2013, produced her first short documentary film “Fighting the Current,” she merged her passion for the environment with her skills in photography. It took first place in the first film festival she entered.

 Sandra Brierley came to Seattle University after completing an AA degree in California, working for several years, and studying and photographing the natural world. After joining the university as the Manager of Faculty Services, she decided to continue her education, majored in Environmental Studies, and developed her skills in documentary photography.   

Brierley did an independent study project in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, photographing its ecologically diverse wilds during an eight-day sail. Stopping at two First Nations communities, she visited their small salmon hatchery, an integral part of their subsistence and culture. Upon her return to Seattle, she gravitated toward the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery for her service learning. 

Brierley immersed herself in the lives of salmon, both figuratively and literally. She gutted salmon to harvest and fertilized hundreds of thousands of fish eggs. She learned about the history of salmon in the region and helped nurture the young fish until they were ready for release. She also provided documentary photography for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the nonprofit Friends of the Salmon Hatchery. As an alumna, Brierley returned to the college to take a film production class. She linked up with Film Studies students, now alumni Brian Cunningham and Glaser Jacobson, to produce “Fighting the Current: Salmon as a Symbol of the Pacific Northwest.”  

For centuries, the varied cultures and economies of the Northwest have been linked to salmon. In the 1930s, overfishing and habitat destruction led the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to rebuild the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery in an effort to return salmon to Issaquah Creek.

“The video is a journey with the salmon as they begin their remarkable lives,” Brierley said. “The Issaquah hatchery is a real success story, but salmon continue to struggle against the currents of habitat destruction, pollution, and barriers blocking their passage home.”

Brierley hopes that “Fighting the Current” sparks concern not only among the environmental community but among government agencies and private business.  

“This critically important species is still under constant threat of disappearing from the waterways of the Pacific Northwest,” she emphasized. “Use of public funding and regulations that prevent the destruction of wild salmon habitat will require people with different perspectives to join forces not only for the health of our biotic community but also for our economic well-being.”

“Fighting the Current: Salmon as a Symbol in the Pacific Northwest” was selected for screening at the 2014 Ellensburg Film Festival. In April 2015, the film was, by invitation only, selected to be a part of the Ellensburg Film Festival Shorts Showcase on the Audience Awards where it took first place. You can watch the film here.

In addition to her work for the university, Brierley continues to focus her interests in nature fine art photography and film as the owner of Red Crow Photography.

Published September 2015.