On the cover of “Through the Lens” is a charging cheetah, covering ground at up to 75 mph against a lush green background somewhere in Africa.
“Tapestries” features a wide-angle photo of a wheat field, somewhere in America, on page 17. The sharpness of the focus creates a striking contrast of grains against a foreboding evening sky.
Page 66 in “The Human Spirit” shows four kids, painted red, white and blue, like the U.S. flag, with separate ethnicities reflected in each face.
These diverse images are in the collection of Howard Buffett, philanthropist and photographer.
“My camera has been a tool in an effort to help others visualize the beauty and diversity that exists in our world,” said Buffett, in the author’s notes of “Through the Lens.”
Local citizens know Buffett best for multimillion-dollar contributions from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office. Donations from the Foundation top $20 million since 2012 and include more than $14 million to bring a regional dispatch center online. Since 2015, the Buffett Foundation has also contributed all funding for Cochise One, the Sheriff’s Department helicopter, along with multiple contributions to other entities throughout the county.
Howard Buffett’s renown as a photographer on an international level has escaped comparable coverage in Arizona, where headlines in state newspapers question his sizable role in Cochise County’s largest law enforcement agency. His past employment as Sheriff in Macon County, Ill., and his current service as Undersheriff for the same agency, have contributed to an image as a strong supporter of law enforcement.
“I have spent the last 20 years working in countries where there is little accountability for criminal behavior and seeing the consequences of what that means for people trying to make better lives for themselves and their families,” Buffett said in an email.
“Those experiences made me understand how fundamental public safety and good law enforcement is to quality of life. Our Foundation is committed to supporting public safety in the communities where we have employees, and my own experience in law enforcement helps guide how we direct our support.”
Mr. Buffett’s donation of 10 photo books to the Friends of the Library puts his skill as a photographer on public display. Six of the editions are hard-cover coffee-table volumes and four are smaller, paperback, photo books. The collection of books will be sold by the “Friends of the Sierra Vista Public Library” as a fundraising effort, with proceeds furthering the mission of the local volunteer organization.
Margery Brzozowski, store manager at the “Friends” bookshop at 2243 E. Fry Blvd., was happy to receive the 10-book Buffett collection. She said the Board of Directors who govern the organization will decide “what to do” about selling the books, either individually or the entire collection, to further the “Friends” mission. Brzozowski said the bookshop is open to the public and everyone is welcome to examine books in the Buffett collection.
“We’ll have all the books on display at the store until the board decides what to do next,” Brzozowski said.
Buffett said the Foundation has provided books to schools and libraries all across the country.
“Photography can be a great tool in education – some people learn better by seeing, I certainly do. I’m glad these books can help support the library and share with the community some of what I see in my travels,” Buffett said.
Friends of the Library is a 501©(3) nonprofit that supports literacy programs in the community. Membership is open to the public, costs $5 a year and includes a roster of about 700 people.
“Our success as an organization is a direct reflection on the generosity of the community,” Brzozowski said. “We want to give books a chance and keep them out of the landfill.”
Friends of the Library raises funds from membership fees and store sales, contributing its proceeds to fund literacy programs at the Sierra Vista Public Library and similar efforts by local and county agencies.
Buffett’s photography is a featured attraction at the Newseum, located in Washington, D.C. The museum celebrates the freedoms of the First Amendment and last year hosted more than 770,000 visitors.
His collection of “40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World,” presents scenes from around the globe depicting man’s progress in agriculture and featuring the faces of those in the farming industry.
Reviewers who have either seen the exhibit or examined an accompanying book authored by Buffett titled “40 Chances,” a New York Times bestseller, represent an impressive list of supporters.
“Howard’s intellect is only surpassed by the size of his heart. This book will give readers a chance to learn from him in the way that I have, and form their own plan for making the most of the 40 Chances we all have,” wrote actress and philanthropist Eva Longoria.
Similar praises have been heralded from former President Bill Clinton, former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Dan Glickman, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
During a recent telephone interview, Buffett said support for law enforcement and his photography represent two priorities that foster the success of communities everywhere.
“I believe that there has to be rule of law and a free press for a society to prosper,” Buffett said. “Unless you have both, the absence of either results in the failure of a community.”
Pivots from the air
Buffett’s connection to Cochise County started with visits to Arizona State University. It developed into relationships with other universities, including Penn State, Texas A&M and the University of Missouri, who have partnered on the development of a research farm owned by the foundation in Willcox. Through this farm, agriculture experts in Africa and South America work with U.S. researchers.
He also supported programs at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU, noting that his first “love” was journalism. Buffett started farming in Nebraska in 1986 and later developed agricultural research programs in Illinois in 2002.
The foundation is funding and building an agriculture institute in Rwanda that opens this fall, enrolling 84 students each year while another 200 Rwandans are attending the University of Nebraska to learn the latest science in agriculture.
Buffett’s foundation started research in South Africa in 1999, but “eventually it just got too dangerous there and we began looking at recreating the conditions of that environment here in the United States,” he said.
After flying over eastern Cochise County several times, Buffett began working with a real estate agent to purchase property near Willcox. Buffett operates pivots on his farm in Nebraska, so the wells pumping water to large sprayers creating large circles of green, viewed from the air, were familiar and caught Buffett’s attention.
“I would fly home out of Tucson, and it was during one of those trips that I started noticing the pivots,” Buffett said.
He said investigating the agricultural opportunities in Cochise County gave him a “huge education,” and has allowed the research to continue.
“We found a couple of farms and spent a lot of time and money to upgrade the property and the wells,” Buffett said. “We studied drought tolerance, which was an extension of our work in South Africa, and focused on developing plants that stay strong with very little water.”
His family hails from Nebraska and has deep ties to agriculture. His development as a photographer began about 35 years ago when he pestered his daughter for the use of her camera.
“Erin wanted her camera back and so my first camera was a Christmas gift from my wife,” he joked.
His interest grew quickly and “evolved,” he said, with more equipment and the opportunity to photograph around the globe.
“I’ve traveled to every country in Africa,” Buffett said. “For me, photos are an education. Knowing that I’m learning something with every image drives me to get photos I might not otherwise get.”