Honey, I just shrunk my world!

I think the time has come. I feel a bit of honesty is due. They say that the first shoots of recovery from a self-inflicted malaise, is an admission of that malaise. For the last 20 years or so I’ve been kidding myself that I’m a photographer. And now, I realise that I’ve been living a lie; it’s time to own up. For as long as I can remember I’ve been feigning interest in all manner of photographic dialogue but in truth, I care not a hoot.

In the last few weeks by way of a quirky set of circumstances, I’ve spent time with some of the most insightful nature writers and media commentators of our time. It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with the subject matter but listening and then listening again to well-researched, well-reasoned and well-articulated arguments for why the wild world needs our time and energy, it’s difficult not to be infused with a fresh perspective, a renewed vigour, a resolve to be a better communicator rather than simply a better photographer.

So at last I can own up, relieve myself of a pigeonhole I didn’t solicit; or perhaps I did? No matter, I feel cleansed, free of the constipation brought about by a perceived need to conform to the rituals of my chosen tribe. I am officially no longer a photographer.

Now before the vultures amongst you start circling over my hard-earned gear, I’m not done with it just yet: I am still convinced of what photography can do. And what it can do is make us think, make us feel. I want my audience, however big or small, to think and to feel more; I don’t want them to simply graze on meaningless photographic fodder. It’s a tricky act to pull off but if I, if we, don’t try, then in my view, whatever talent we might have developed for capturing compelling images, is wasted.

I’ve not always thought this way. Like lots of my peer group I’ve spent much of the last two decades charging around the northern hemisphere shooting away at random subject matter. More recently however, things have changed and one place has been gnawing away at me, calling me if you will. It’s a place I’ve never really got to grips with, not properly: a place of untold stories, unfinished business. It’s a place I care about and know about; a place I call home. Scotland. Why didn’t I think of it before? Why didn’t I realise the story-telling potential on my own back doorstep?

My colleague Niall Benvie, an insightful writer, and another self-confessed over-thinker, recently wrote:

Photography provides an incredible platform for self-expression, for framing and sharing your worldview.”

He’s right and although my worldview might have shrunk somewhat, I’m more determined than ever to frame it and in doing so, put my photography to better use.

Here’s another sobering (but very true) observation, this time from environmental commentator, George Monbiot:

“We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topics that demand our attention”.

Personally, I don’t think the colour of our lenses or the niceties of post-production are worthy of our attention but the health of our natural world surely is.




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21 thoughts on “Honey, I just shrunk my world!

  1. Well done Pete, there are lots of photographers and a lot less thinkers and even less do-ers! The combination is the only hope for the natural world, albeit a slim one. 2020 is great, but we need more, more, more to keep the fight going forward.

  2. Just wondered if anyone knows what the latest is on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s marriage? This morning over breakfast I read in Grazia that they may be heading for divorce! Really shocking news. On a more positive note, “Poppy rocked the Casbah!”. Her wedding pictures are so amazing! Just have a look at “10 Hot Stories” on page 22 of this week edition, I bet their photographer had an amazing camera.

  3. I commend you’re honestly, we need more people to document our wonderful native wildlife and speak passionately about the issues surrounding both our countryside and the animals that live there. I hope that’s what this blog is actually saying, take the pictures and tell a story it’s the only way to get people engaged and interested….. Hopefully for the greater good.

  4. The image, movie, written word alone or in combination will evoke a response. If you can shape these to convey your thoughts or ask a question that is a skill. This has nothing to do with ‘Photography’, ‘Video production’ or ‘Creative writing’. The wandering eye is not arrested by the maximum aperture of your lens or the low-light capability of the sensor or even by a point of interest at the ‘thirds’. The eye is held by a connection that transfers emotion. It is personal, ephemeral without a firm definition. You just ‘know’ when the image does the job.
    I was given Caledonia by my family because it captured my home, not because it had some good pics.
    For what its worth, I believe you ‘know’ what you are doing – keep doing it

  5. Hello Peter

    Thank you for publishing this post. It just confirmed to me that I might be on a right path. Just last week I was reading through my old blog posts and realized that I have not been writing much about photography. There are posts about the World Environment Day and potential impact of rising sea levels on coastal communities, NatureCity Festival in my hometown (promoting a week-long festival with a goal to get families and kids to experience nature within the city), a nature photo walk that I led in downtown Saskatoon (again, trying to entice city folks to explore their town and connect with neighbours), an article about the World Wildlife Day and amazing diversity of plants and animals we have in our province, etc. In spite of the fact that my business card states that I am a “biologist and photographer”, my communication efforts have not been directed towards telling the world how great photographer I am. Although I do believe that I am the best photog on my side of the street. Similar to you questioning whether niceties of post-production are worthy of our attention, I decided to stick the course and share with the world what I care about the most. And be a “photographer” to the extent which enables me to do so.

  6. I think you could wrap that whole statement up and write on the front of the package, Please Find Enclosed 2020Vision,having followed from inception, this is one of the finest Natural History works of present time, for you now Pete to be able to stand in front of a transfixed audience with 2020 what better testament would anyone require to further the very thing you stand for, keep up your fantastic work for the benefit of all.

  7. Pete,
    I’ve just read your blog. I thought for a horrible moment you were about to announce that you were putting an end to running what are probably the best photo tours on the planet. Thankfully you soon assured us all that this wasn’t the case and what you really wanted to tell us about was your recent epiphany. I found it very interesting. I was impressed, as I know from my own experience that telling a story through photographs is not easy. However, I did find your bubbling enthusiasm a little bit OTT, but hey it’s a free country.

    However I would like to comment on some of the contents of your post.

    You say you are now “free of the constipation brought about by a perceived need to conform to the rituals of my chosen tribe”. Are you really? How long do you think it will be before you find yourself constipated by the rituals of your new chosen tribe? I think I know you well enough to know that you plough your own furrow and you don’t suffer fools gladly, but how long do you think your honeymoon with “some of the most insightful nature writers and media commentators of our time” will last? Wasn’t it Hemingway who said “you can’t escape from yourself by moving from place to place”?

    You talk about what your photography can do. Make us think, make us feel, but who are “us”. We’ve had this conversation before about preaching to the converted and I feel that this may well happen again unless something radically different occurs. What you are doing is laudable, but I think you need a Pankhurst or Luther-King on your side to really get your message across. You’ll know you are succeeding when residents of the Gorbals are reading 2020Vision.

    Furthermore, to achieve your goal you will inevitably come into contact with politics, if you haven’t already done so. Then, no matter how worthwhile your cause, you will have to accept the fact that the aforementioned residents of the Gorbals have exactly the same voting rights as you.

    Finally, with regard to your use of the “very true” quotation from George Monbiot. What were you thinking? I haven’t heard anything so ill considered since Gerald Ratner committed financial suicide by saying that his company’s products were rubbish. Did it never cross your mind that you, me, your customers, your friends and colleagues are all likely to be middle class and our obsessions couldn’t be further from those Mr. Monbiot attributes to us if they tried. I know yours certainly are.

    I’m sorry to be playing devil’s advocate here, as, contrary to what you may think, I believe the wild world needs our time and energy too. It’s just that I think it’s going to need a much bigger sledgehammer to crack this nut.

  8. Hi Paul

    Thanks for your contribution and your kind comments about our tours.

    I might be misreading you (or you me) but if any part of my post comes over as patronising to the middle classes (or any other ‘classes’ for that matter) then this certainly wasn’t my intention. Nor was it my intention to intimate that I’ve found a new ‘gang’ better than the last one.

    This post was really about priorities, values, belief systems. I agree it’s a tough nut to crack. I disagree however, that it’s an impossible nut to crack. Looking back just a generation shows what can be achieved given the will.

    There are two things we can do (‘we’ being society at large). We can criticise others, throw our hands in the air and bemoan the shortcomings of our political system and social values. Or we can try to do our bit. All I am saying is that I intend to try a little harder to do my bit, rather than wasting my energy worrying about whether Custom Function X is preferable to Y.

  9. Hi Pete,

    You are very welcome to my contribution and as far as your tours are concerned I think they are superb, which is why I keep coming back.

    It is for this very reason that I’m being harsh with you about your post.

    I’m afraid I didn’t misread you. I’m sure I’m not the only person who read your article and felt your use and support (“but very true”) of George Monbiot’s quotation about the way the middle class live was even more offensive than it was patronising. None of the middle class people I know, including many of your guests I’ve met over the years, lives anything like the lifestyle Monbiot describes and which you have seconded. As I said before, it was ill considered and I stand by that.

    Furthermore in your original post you said: “ For as long as I can remember I’ve been feigning interest in all manner of photographic dialogue but in truth, I care not a hoot.”

    Are you mad? You’re running an extremely successful photographic tour company which provides tuition to those who need it and you are telling the world that you don’t care a hoot about photographic dialogue.

    If you employed a PR or Marketing manager they would have had a heart attack when they discovered you had written this.

    So please Pete,when you write again about something you feel so passionate about, don’t let your emotions run away with you and let your head do the writing.

    All the best.

    The other PC.

  10. My first visit to this site and this happens to be the first post I read. Peter, I have to say you scare me. I have never had such a reaction to simply reading a “photography” blog post before. It seems to strike the main chord in which my loose ends are fastened. I am not sure how to proceed. But, I possibly now have a starting point. Not a photographer hmm? I like it. I have no doubt a better communicator will instinctively make a better photographer.
    And no, you really didn’t scare me but, the picture of the young girl smiling while curiously touching the dead deer is rather creepy.

    1. Brad – I’m interested in what it is about the image that you find “creepy”. You mention “young girl” and “smiling” and “curiously” and also “touching”.

      Is it that she smiles whilst in the presence of a dead animal?
      That she is touching it?
      Or touching it whilst smiling?
      Or something else?

      I’m very interested in learning about the ways people respond to certain images, the ways they describe them and the language they use, and the reasons why that might be. It’s pretty much what Pete was saying up top:

      “I am still convinced of what photography can do. And what it can do is make us think, make us feel. I want my audience, however big or small, to think and to feel more; I don’t want them to simply graze on meaningless photographic fodder. It’s a tricky act to pull off but if I, if we, don’t try, then in my view, whatever talent we might have developed for capturing compelling images, is wasted.”


  11. Hi Brad

    Thanks for your contribution.

    I didn’t intend to scare or be creepy! If you’ve thought about and reconsidered your photography however, I’m pleased. Of course this post is a little tongue in cheek but I’m really keen to better harness the communicative power of our imagery so if just a few of us do this, the post is worthwhile.

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