I have to apologise: I might have brought you here using a misleading header for this post. I’m sorry. I do want to talk about Help for Heroes, but environmental and social heroes rather than the military type. For some, there is no more worthy an act than sacrificing your safety for your country. For me, it is just as important to celebrate the selflessness of those who give their time and expertise to make our communities – and therefore the world – better. Continue reading “Help for Heroes”
It started with a 1000-mile round trip to deliver a presentation in Derby, the place I grew up in. The talk was attended by an old school teacher of mine and a smattering of friends and family huddled on the back row (there were others there too you understand!) Weird.
Tuesday brought about a meeting to secure the 2020VISION roadshow in The National Forest – this from discussions that have stretched over the best part of 2 years. Relief.
Wednesday was a relatively normal day in the office although we did buy 5 Highland Cows as conservation grazers. Daunting. I also met with a mate of mine who revealed insider knowledge about a rather exciting reintroduction project about to be unleashed. Intriguing. This was also the day I heard the news about the Manchester police women being shot. Shocking.
Thursday took me to a photographer friend’s for an update on various matters and contrary to the usual frivolous nature of our discussions, today was more sombre as a member of his family is very unwell. On returning home I was greeted with the news that our old Highland pony (he’s not ours actually but he lives with us) was lame and would need to be put to sleep. Sad and Sobering.
An early call yesterday created a meeting with a local landowner about a potential commission documenting a massively ambitious restoration scheme in the Highlands. Inspiring.
As I sit here writing, Amanda is busying around getting stuff together for our holiday to Yellowstone. Bizarre.
So what’s all this got to do with a photographic blog? Well if truth be told, I’m feeling a bit emotional; high emotion has been the common denominator throughout this last week. The more I think about the state of the natural world and what can be done to right some of the wrongs, the more I become convinced that we don’t use our unique capacity for emotion creatively enough. I read a while ago that generally speaking, people’s relationship with nature isn’t rational or scientific; it’s emotional. And it’s true. You can peddle all the ecological science, all the socio-economic data, all the conservation buzzwords you like, but for most people, nature is something they ‘feel’. Great photography is something that makes people ‘feel’.
As a nation we’ve done a pretty good job this summer ‘feeling’ the Olympics and Paralympics and what high emotion reigned for those few weeks. But spectacular as they undoubtedly were, these are transient events, moments in time. If only we, as a society, could harness that Olympic energy, that high-octane emotion and mobilise it for nature. That would be something worth getting up on Monday morning for. And Tuesday. And Wednesday.
I don’t get out much. That’s not a complaint simply a consequence of rural living and middle-aged indifference. So when I was alerted to the upcoming opening of the 2020VISION exhibition in Edinburgh, it was gladrags and mascara time for me!
Breakfast time came and went. Lunchtime came and went. It was a busy, busy day. But tea…tea was something I could catch up with during the ‘nibbles’ session that all these events provide. “A glass of wine madam?” Now I’m old enough to know that an empty stomach and alcohol only leads down one road, but before I knew it, there was a glass in my hand and I’d set off.
The location was stunning, the exhibition well received, the speeches inspiring and I have to say, the serving staff were VERY efficient. “Another wine madam?” And so many people I hadn’t seen for ages. “Another glass madam?” And the music was so uplifting. “A top up madam?” Oh what a wonderful evening. And then, a burning sensation in my back: Pete’s eyes. OK, I knew I was tipsy but his glare suggested something on an altogether different level.
Do you remember the Dick Emery show? Do you remember the old woman who used to smirk and utter the words “Oh you are awful but I like you” before pushing some unfortunate soul into a ditch? Well according to Pete (and he claims to have witnesses who will testify at my trial) that’s who I resembled. As many of you know, he’s prone to embellishment but he might have a point!
So here I was, 130 miles from home and with Pete staying in Edinburgh for the night, my taxi driver was tapping his fingers waiting for me to stop blethering (have you noticed how it takes an hour to leave a party when you’ve had a few?) My driver in this case was Andy Parkinson, one of the 2020VISION photographers and guide (the very next day) for our Shetland tour. Pete got weary of glaring and Andy replaced him. “Are we going yet Amanda?” Can we get off now Amanda?” “It’s a long journey and I’m up early Amanda.”
A quick stop at the services and a bag full of munchies later, I was feeling much better and Andy and I enjoyed the journey up the A9 having a good old blether. For the record, I dropped him at the airport nice and early and felt fine!
So the moral of the story? Do you know what? Stuff the morals, we all had a great time and the fact that I don’t get out much made it even better! “One for the road madam?”
“Actually no, I’ve probably had enough now thank you.”
Since late 2009 I’ve been working almost exclusively on a major project called 2020VISION. Regular readers will be familiar with my ‘2020’ exploits and musings. Together with many of the UK’s most creative nature photographers (and then there’s me) I’ve been up and down the country gathering images that tell the story of the repair and reconnection of some of the UK’s ecosystems and the services they provide to us all – clean water, fresh air, productive soils to name a few.
I’ve got to say that the last two years have been a real cocktail of emotions and a roller coaster of fortunes. The 2020VISION message is very much of the moment but has coincided with huge cuts in public and NGO spending, forcing the small team of us that manage the project into some very tight corners. Yesterday however, saw the first major milestone completed – the 2020VISION flagship book.
I find working on a book a tortuous and time-consuming process where attention to detail is paramount. Factor in the number of fingers in the 2020VISION pie – photographers, conservation bodies, scientists, publishers, government agencies – and the pressure to ‘get it right’ is significant. So did we get it right? Well for someone normally very critical, I think we did indeed get it right and the 2020VISION book is befitting of the project overall. Of course the proof is in the pudding and it will be the readership, which ultimately determines the book’s success.
I’m now working on the 2020VISION outdoor exhibition, which launches in July in Edinburgh, after which I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to get back to basics. In the meantime, here’s a date for your diary: August 1st – the publishing date for the 2020VISION book. It will very shortly be available for pre-order in our store and on this one occasion, I’m going to swallow my pride and get down on my knees to beg you to buy it. There’s blood, sweat and many many tears (did I mention many tears?) gone into this book and for that reason alone it should be on your bookshelf!
I sometimes find it difficult to pitch this blog. On the one hand, I’m concerned (as we all should be) about environmental injustices and to that end, open dialogue is a food that nourishes fresh perspectives and values. On the other hand, I’m a photographer and my guess is that most people visiting this blog want to see pictures or at the very least, read material that is directly relevant to nature photography. I’ve heard many negative comments about photographers getting all too worthy and I definitely don’t want to fall into that trap – please prod me if that is becoming the case!!
So is it my place to slap the humble readership of this blog around the face and make it feel so guilty about its environmental performance that it feels compelled to go and live in a cave? Of course not. It’s my place to try my best to inspire and send folk away with a nice warm fuzzy feeling – isn’t it? The fact is I’m not sure, and my indecision was crystallised just yesterday.
Chris Packham is writing the foreword to the upcoming 2020VISION book and I’ve just received his draft text. Now I’m a great fan of Chris’ straight-talking pragmatism and I agree with most of what he says. But in this case, I was a tad surprised about his views on the lack of merit in modern conservation, not to mention wildlife photography. I see his point but having read the piece I felt a bit worthless and deflated. In this state of mind am I best placed to go out and do my bit to inspire others? Probably not.
And then this morning, colleague Niall Benvie sent me a raft of material from the very clever people at Futerra, a London-based company committed to creative environmental communication (check them out). Their first document, ’10 rules for communicating sustainability’ centred throughout on positivity, encouragement…even love. Rule 6 says “avoid too much guilt.”
It’s very easy to report bad news and over the years, photographers with a mind to effective communication, have been as guilty as anyone for doing just that. But does it work? Well, for what it’s worth, I think it does…for a while. But in the longer term we become fatigued with guilt and not wanting to carry around such a burden, we simply shed it, block it out.
I’ve got to say I kind of enjoy discussing the sensitive issues that govern our way forward as a species but increasingly, I recognise that I’m perhaps more productive going back to basics and producing (and showing) imagery that make people feel good. This based on the perhaps naive assumption that if we feel good, we’re more likely to do good. At a time when the role of visual communication has never had such an exciting songpost to sing from, it’s critical that as photographers, we pitch our message sensitively and creatively.
And whilst we’re talking about warm, fuzzy feelings, make sure you check out 2020VISION’s daily WOW Factor image here. There’s no message, no agenda, it’s just nice!
Almost 2 years ago to the day I pressed the shutter with my camera pointing at a pure white ptarmigan high in the Cairngorms and in doing so bagged my first shot for the 2020VISION project. Last week I took my final images for the collection and what a difference in habitats. The Cairngorm Mountains are high, rugged and remote. Morecambe Bay is low, flat and surrounded by industry. As such, it’s not the easiest place to work, but with the expectations of the project itself, my colleagues within it and the height of the nature photograph bar generally set very high anyway, it’s been a long time since I’ve found anywhere, or anything, that is easy to put your own stamp on.
The forecast was mixed and with a short window of opportunity, I have to say I felt a wee bit pressured. The likes of Chris Gomersall, David Tipling, Danny Green and Mark Hamblin had already fed fantastic images into the story I was following – that of the UK’s estuaries and saltmarshes being ‘More than just mud’. So my task was simple : evocative scenics in dramatic light. Sounds straightforward on paper – trouble is I don’t know the area very well so I had to hit the ground running.
One of the great things about the internet is the ability to research locations and to see what other photographers have done where. Morecambe Bay is seemingly not a landscape photography magnet and I found little online that suggested obvious starting points. I sat in my campervan with a cup of tea and pondered. What were the key elements I needed to articulate here? The only word I could come up with was ‘Bigness’. Morecambe Bay is Big. Big skies, Big views…just Big. But also flat, so I needed some viewpoints and assuming dramatic skies – a pre-requisite for this type of work – I needed to get close to water to show that light to its best effect.
With these types of jobs I tend to find that working and then re-working the same few locations is more productive than charging around trying to cover everything. And so it was that over 4 days I began to gravitate towards the area around Arnside and Silverdale (fantastic cafe at RSPB Leighton Moss by the way) with dawn shoots further west at Grange.
Through a set of contacts I managed to coerce a couple of cockle fishermen to ‘model’ for me. The cockle beds in the Bay are closed presently so I’d like to point out that no cockles were harvested during the making of these pictures. The shoot however, did in many ways reflect the backdrop to why 2020VISION had chosen this location. There’s a big project underway in the area appropriately called Headlands to Headspace. This is an ambitious undertaking with the objective of rejuvenating the productivity of the Bay. I don’t just mean economic productivity, I mean ecological, cultural and even social productivity: allowing the world-class wildlife of the Bay to prosper and to allow people to benefit from improved ecological integrity – this very much includes those who make their living from harvesting natural resources.
Morecambe Bay is ostensibly a land of contradictions where natural beauty struggles to shake off the shadow of heavy industry. But it’s by no means unique in that respect. The secret perhaps – and it’s a tricky one – is not a war between one or the other, but an imaginative and sympathetic accommodation of both. Headlands to Headspace is just about right. Standing out on the mudflats at dawn with a peregrine calling nearby and with Bigness in my viewfinder, Headspace was what was offered and we all need to take up that offer when it’s made available. It’s fair to say that over 2 years working on 2020VISION I’ve had plenty of Headaches but when that memory fades, it will be the magical Headspace moments that stay with me.
Back in April I spent a few weeks for the 2020VISION project just about as far west as Britain will allow. The Outer Hebrides is a challenging environment and for a good part of the time it rained – that was inevitable. One evening more out of hope than expectation (it was raining again) I visited a remote beach bathed in aquamarine waters. Just before sundown, the rain abated and I took my chance working feverishly for an hour or so before the light became impossible. There are lots of images like this one but only this was taken by me, alone on that Hebridean beach.
Aha, got you! Apologies if you’ve landed here expecting a tale of unsurpassed debauchery. Actually no, I’m not going to apologise – you shouldn’t be following such sensationalist headlines on the net! But of course many people do, and a recent e-manual that arrived on my desktop positively encourages me – as just a humble photographic blogger – to ‘sex up’ my posts in the sure knowledge of extra blog traffic. Perhaps this is my chance to get on Big Brother? It could be a metaphorical getting your **** out for the lads! Perhaps not.
So how does nature compete to attract attention in a world where societal values have changed in just a generation? It’s damned difficult, of that there is no doubt.
I was working down at the Scottish Seabird Centre recently for 2020VISION. The story was the relationship between the health of our seas, the health of our seabirds and the health of us humans. It’s a tricky story to tell but I was massively impressed how many people were trying to tell it – even on a dreich summer afternoon. A young couple had set up a quite elaborate display stand and were working hard at making gannets (and puffins, seals etc) fun and exciting to passing children. The audience was small with varying attention spans, but bit by bit they were drawn in and ‘engaged’.
At the end of the day these young educators were completely spent, they’d given their all. It’s hard work loving nature and wishing everyone else would too. But it’s a job worth doing and my hat goes off to all who try.
With a little imagination, the headline to this post could be: 40,000 bonking birds cram into high-rise, high-tension tenement block. Do you reckon that would get my search engine rankings up?
Working up in the Flow country of northern Scotland recently, I was reminded why celebrated landscape photographers in say, Estonia or The Netherlands, are pretty thin on the ground. Capturing the essence of very flat landscapes is damned difficult. And along with 2020VISION colleagues Lorne & Fergus Gill, Rob Jordan and Mark Hamblin, I was aiming to capture more of ‘the essence’ of this wild place; to tell the story of why this is ‘More than just a bog.’
Basic ingredients: flat, wet ground and big skies – none of the foreground lochs and boulder-strewn moorlands of the classic Highland landscape; no rushing burns or mountain backdrops. In fact stripped of most of the usual contributory components, my head was sore from the constant scratching.
But work hard – and in this case, work together – and the story starts to unfold. Reviewing my initial images, I was disappointed but having secured several timelapse sequences, and knowing what was coming from the rest of the team, it all started to take shape.
This massive area of blanket bog – the most expansive of its kind anywhere – has a story to tell but it’s a story hidden in the layers of carbon-locking peat that make up its very existence. Those layers of peat draw on centuries of accumulated decaying vegetation – it’s an historical story. Yet the significance of peat bog as a carbon store is only just coming to the fore and it’s the future more than the past, that this wild place will influence. Photographically it’s not easy but the reasons for protecting it are manifest.
Any photographer visiting Scotland’s Western Isles will set off with two surefire expectations: rain and wind. They’ll also have in the back of their mind a nugget of hope: exciting light. Of course the latter is largely dictated by the former. It is the constant stream of Atlantic weather fronts which bombard these low-lying islands, that give rise to some of the most dynamic light anywhere.
And so it was with expectation and hope in mind (plus a decent set of waterproofs) that I recently set off for Lewis, Harris and North Uist (in that order). It had been 10 long years since I last visited the Outer Hebrides and apart from re-acquainting myself with some favoured sites, I was charged with the task of capturing the essence of the Hebridean coastline for the 2020VISION project. Now the deal is quite simple in these remote islands: wait for long enough (normally in horizontal sleet) and you’ll get good light. And so I did.
It was windy, in fact at times it was extremely windy and of course it did rain. But between the showers, the light at times was sublime. It’s not always a pretty place; it’s not always comfortable. But when it’s good, it’s very, very good.
And now for the capitalist sting in the tail: did I mention we’re running a tour to the Hebs in 2012? No? Well I’m mentioning it now! If you’d like to join me, view the tour here.