2014: A year for doing?

Although I’ve never fully understood the significance of New Year as a watershed for reflection, evaluation, goal-setting, I nevertheless find myself doing exactly that around this time. 2013 was a busy old year with precious little time to come up for air, but it also turned out to be a bit of a turning point. Continue reading “2014: A year for doing?”

Why do we take pictures?

One way or another it seems we’re all battling to have our voices heard – or images seen – amongst a growing hubbub, a throng of vulturine media. Competition is taking its toll on many established pros. New ideas don’t stay new for very long; fresh approaches aren’t fresh at all once you start digging and conservation photography, that very laudable idea that visual imagery can contribute to societal values, has in some cases, become the latest photographic bandwagon: a trendy claim to justify self-indulgence. It’s all so damned difficult.

So where is professional nature photography heading? Well, that’s probably a subject for a six-part blockbuster blog, and even if I knew the answer – which I don’t – I’m not sure it addresses my current thought processes. So let’s just stop and think and strip it all back to basics.

Reading David Noton’s piece in a recent edition of Outdoor Photography, I was struck by the simple truth that our pursuit of photographic trophies – those images you can hold aloft and shout about – really isn’t the end in itself but the means to the end. Without the drive that all photographers have to some degree, to secure the images we want, in all likelihood we wouldn’t find ourselves stood on a coastal headland at daft o’clock or freezing your wotsits off in a Scottish blizzard or being so close to a bear that you can smell its rancid breath. These experiences are the real trophies; these are the memories that will etch themselves on your soul for ever – the camera is just the excuse for being there.

So is it just about having fun? In some cases most definitely but I’m not yet 100% sold on that notion – perhaps I just don’t wear frivolity very comfortably. That said, my perspective has changed in recent years. Photography allows us, perhaps forces us, to see the world differently and certainly the experiences I’ve been afforded from standing behind a camera, have shaped what I think, what I feel, what I am. As I reluctantly approach the half-century mark, I’ve learned that the most valuable asset I own is not my image archive but my memory archive, the one stored in my minds eye.

Conservation Communication.

Next month I’ll be returning to the Scottish Nature Photography Fair in Perth (do come along!) to talk about Conservation and Communication. Whilst preparing a bit of the show yesterday, I found myself wondering whether the modern-day (self-appointed) ‘Conservation Photographer’ is little more than a pretentious prat with an unfounded sense of self-importance.  As I consider myself a conservation photographer, the thought process was particularly relevant.

There is certainly an element of bandwagonism as photographers frantically seek out the lifeboat on the good ship HMS Your Photographic Career,  which seems to spring more holes on a daily basis. And who can blame anyone for simply wanting to survive?  If consumer demand dictates that nature photographers are conservation-minded, organic, fairtade, homegrown, it’s not surprising that in some cases, a quick-fix ethical veneer is applied –  if it’s OK for Tesco or McDonalds…

Cynicism (or is it reality?) aside, there are photographers who have consistently displayed a commitment to initiating real change. The list is long but in modern times, names that spring to mind include Thomas Peschak, Daniel Beltra, Karl Ammann, Mark Edwards – these are guys who don’t worry too much about labels or branding, they just get on with it. And ‘it’ is putting their imagery to work; getting in front of big audiences and influencing societal change. They are effective visual communicators, and that for me, is where it’s at.

As I prepare to make my bi-monthly submission to one of my picture libraries (see images herein), I realise I’m still trading in a wide range of subject matter that doesn’t support my aspiration to be a conservation photographer when I grow up. Note to self: must try harder.

The blog will go quiet for a couple of weeks as I head off to the Arctic (somebody has to do it). Ironically this is a place where Conservation Communication is as pressing as anywhere.