Member Responses to the Articles
There may be some truth in the criticism that nature photographers favor scenes of tranquil beauty over those that display the increasing spread of environmental destruction. But it should not come as a surprise, for it was a love of nature itself that motivated most of us to get into the field in the first place. It is only afterwards that we have begun to see that we may also have a role--even an obligation--to help protect the natural world we enjoy so much.
But it may also be a bit naive to suggest that we should all suddenly start photographing destruction, rather than pristine nature. First of all, who would ever see these pictures? It is in magazines and newspapers, arguably, that most images of environmental issues are published --and have the most widespread impact.
Most of these publications, magazines such as National Geographic, Audubon, or National Wildlife, feel keenly their responsibility not simply to show pretty images of an unspoiled world, but also to talk about the issues that affect it-- issues such as global warming, forest destruction, and inevitably, population growth.
Editors buy pictures to tell these stories, and assign photographers to cover them. I hope they will continue, since these kinds of stories educate and inform--both essential prerequisites for change. In the end, it is largely the responsibility, and mission, of these publications to tell these stories, not individual photographers.
The fact is, very few photographers work for these magazines on a regular basis and those that do are often selected because they are particularly skilled at telling environmental stories. The truth is, those photographers are often not the same people that excel at capturing scenes of natural beauty--there are often very different skills involved. But this is a big field and there is room for all of us: let's not waste time beating ourselves up.
Meanwhile, most consumers of nature-related images--whether they are calendar companies, advertisers, greeting card publishers--typically want images that convey a sense of beauty, of "prettiness," even what Jim Balog refers to as "eye candy." Yes, the marketplace is full of sentimental and decorative images--it always has been. And there are plenty of photographers out there willing to provide those kinds of pictures: there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Having said that, should we, as nature photographers, be doing more for the environment? Sure. We should all be using the tools we have to help make a difference, in whatever way is personally meaningful. No one who spends time in nature can avoid seeing what is happening to it, and I believe that photographers, as "visual consumers" of the planet, have a responsibility to give something back, to use their craft to make a contribution.
One way to do this is to document issues that are important, locally or globally, which are under-photographed. Dedicate some of your time to documenting an eco-system under threat, an endangered species, or a conservation issue in your area. Donate your pictures to a non-profit organization working on an issue you care about. Remember that photographs--both pretty and ugly, have real value in conservation.
Meanwhile, should we all give up photographing wild places or wild animals? Of course not, and it will never happen, as long as the market for photos of pretty landscapes--and cute animals--continues. But we should also never be complacent about the fate of the natural world we love, and which provides us with our income. Ours is a planet even now gasping for breath: we can and should do everything we can on its behalf.
As an independent agent I am often contacted for the images that show the worst of a situation, in order to illustrate the problem surrounding it. A recent request I had was for World Magazine -- they were doing an article on sharks and the overfishing of sharks around the world. They needed images that showed shark fins being sold in Asian markets, as well as anything else, like mounds of shark meat for sale in fish markets, etc. I've had many requests over the years like this, including seahorses being sold by the Asian markets, sea turtles and their shells, and the like.
I recently had a request for the effects of global warming in Tuvalu, a tiny little group of atolls in the Pacific--supposedly the waterlines around their islands are rising and with only 15 feet above sea level, many of the islanders are making plans to relocate to New Zealand, where they will be welcomed by that nation for resettlement. But how do you show rising water lines as an example to global warming?
Good question. I think if any photographers return to areas again and again, it would be good to document any kind of controversial subject each time they are there, in order to show over time how areas are being decimated. For years, I've seen requests for smoke stacks spewing out pollution into the skies, acid rain effects on European landmarks and forests, as well as pollution floating in rivers.
I have one photographer, Kristin Mosher, (who happens to be a NANPA member) based at the Jane Goodall Institute in Gombe, Tanzania. In her efforts to photograph the lifestyle and behavior of a natural habitat for chimps, I've encouraged her to look further than the surrounding jungles of Gombe. Get out and photograph the deforestation of the surrounding habitat and the destruction of the ecosystem.
Hardest of all, I've insisted for her to make a point of getting into the markets and photograph the bush meat that is being sold as the forests come down and the animals scatter for shelter. Poachers and hunters are always nearby to on-going logging operations, from what I'm told, in an effort to capture and/or kill the animals for their various profits. The practice of buying and eating bushmeat is common in that area, but does little good for the continuation of the dwindling species.
No matter where a photographer goes, it is his/her obligation to document any controversial issue as best as possible, without endangering themselves or the lives of those around them in doing so. I truly believe we can only educate the next generation, as well as ourselves, by providing images that show the degradation of a habitat, species, or some part of our natural world and making those images available to the worldwide publishing industry and the like.
Seeing Beyond Beauty