In parallel with my job in nature photography, I’ve been a farmer for the last 20 years. Not a proper farmer you understand; not a paid up member of the NFU; no, I farm for wildlife on our humble plot of land in the Cairngorms. I’m a biodiversity farmer. I ‘produce’ nature – plants, trees, insects, birds and mammals. My next-door neighbour, a livestock farmer, doesn’t get it. He can’t see the ‘product’, the end result. He thinks our ‘unproductive’ patch of flood plain meadow and regenerating woodland is wasted. And yet in part at least, I farm for profit, just like him.
I read with great interest Laurie Campbell’s recent piece in Outdoor Photography magazine. In it Laurie describes the familiar dilemma of revealing to other photographers often hard-won sites of what can be, sensitive subjects. And Laurie is right, to share or not to share, is a dilemma.
This post was published in the first issue of LUMO magazine and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publishers.
I can’t comment for other working photographers but the Good Old Days when my phone rang regularly with big fat juicy commissions, the days when clients came to me almost waving a cheque in my face, they’re now gone and I know they’re not coming back. Gone too is the worth of charging around the planet cherry picking images of charismatic megafauna and blue chip landscapes. A quick search of Alamy’s online image library will reveal no fewer than 30,000 polar bear images and a similar number of Utah’s iconic Monument Valley. Does the world really need any more ‘hero’ images which whilst undoubtedly spectacular, lack context and impact? The digital era has changed everything and The Good Old Days are fast becoming just a distant memory.
During the run up to last years Scottish Independence referendum I grabbed a rare half hour with my 19-year old son to quiz him on which way he was voting. He was a resolute No. I naturally assumed he’d considered the wider implications of a No vote to public services; the consequences to social and cultural cohesion; the likely impact on the economy and perhaps even, what Independence would mean to Scotland’s environmental policy. I was wrong. It turned out that as a representative of Team GB in alpine sports, he liked the tracksuit. He was voting on the future of his own country solely on the basis of an item of leisurewear.
Image processing: there’s a thin line between aspiration and desperation. The former sees a photographer pushing the boundaries of technology to expand, or improve, his/her style and the latter sees the same photographer crossing that boundary and free falling into a pit of ridicule.
Any tour guide with even half a conscience will recognise the gut-wrenching feeling of lying in bed listening to the wind howling and the rain pounding outside. If it happens once or twice on a tour, the guests will likely sympathise but night after night and I start to stress. Arctic Norway is never going to be straightforward in winter and that’s why we go, but a constant near-gale south-westerly with all that it brings, isn’t good news.
Four hours ago I was stood barely upright on Stac Pollaidh, one of Scotland’s most characterful mountains. Such was the ferocity of the wind at my back, I almost needed to crawl into the lee of the hill to gain some respite and a chance to drink in the spectacular views over Inverpolly Forest. Of course ‘forest’ is an ironic and misleading term as there is barely a tree to be seen for miles and miles…and miles.
Benviebooks: For people who know their art from their elbow.
Oh yes that’s clever.
It’s not often that you feel compelled to smile whilst reading a book on nature photography. That book has to be out of the ordinary and by implication, so does its author. When friend and colleague Niall Benvie sent me his latest eBook, You Are Not a Photocopier, I knew I’d need a cup of tea and a few choccie digestives (sorry Niall but if you’d wanted me to accompany the reading with Charlotte’s chocolates, you should have sent some).
I rarely seem to have time these days to read all the magazines that drop through my door; I’m sure it never used to be the case. One headline however, recently caught my eye: “Make the weather in Photoshop”. Apparently, for those who know what’s what, ice, sun, mist and rain can all be plucked from the digital heavens and inserted into an image with no one being any the wiser. Is that what it’s come to? Is that what nature photography is now about?
One of the traits that makes us human is the ability to plan – to look into the future and envisage the consequences of our actions. We’re obsessed with planning. Businesses plan cash flow and marketing strategy; charities plan fundraising and volunteer recruitment; even nature reserves have management plans dictating which species should live and those that shouldn’t. And as individuals, in an effort to make the best use of our time and resources, many of us plan to the nth degree. As a society we don’t like to leave anything to chance. We strive to ensure wherever possible, positive and sustainable outcomes. It all makes sense but with all this detailed planning going on, you’d think that we’d have a pretty comprehensive plan in place for our future as a species. Not so. This is the elephant in the room, the plan that no one wants to make.