In traditional Aboriginal Australian culture, every person, whether young or old, has a special, lifelong connection to an animal. When an Aboriginal mother feels her baby’s first kick, she makes note of that spot. Elders compare this point to traditional songlines — invisible paths that traverse the entire Australian continent — and determine which animal clan the unborn child will be a part of.
Aboriginal playwright Jack Davis once said (paraphrased),
We’ve got wardens today to look after the forests. We’ve got wardens today to try and bring about weed control. But Aboriginal Australians for forty thousand years had their wardens, you know. It’s quite simple. Give every kid at school something to protect of our flora and fauna. OK. You look after the kangaroo, you look after the beetles, you look after the emu. Aboriginal people knew that, so everybody had something to look after as nature provided.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the past few years, and it has occurred to me that in many ways nature photographers walk a similar path. While many of us do enjoy photographing a little bit of everything, I think that it’s fair to say that most of us tend to gravitate toward a special subject that really tugs at our heart strings. I have friends who make mind-blowing landscape photographs, others who shoot dynamic photographs of coyotes and some who love frogs. I even have a good friend who makes the best fly photos I’ve ever seen. In my case, nothing fills my heart with more joy than photographing an amazing bee. When I do, a sense of joy rises up inside me with such potency that I can’t call it anything other than love.
Sometimes we get so lost in our own work that we can lose sight of the value of what we’re doing for others. When work is produced from the heart — from that place of connection and love — it somehow transcends technique and intention.
If you could somehow see the work of every nature photographer in North America at once, it would soon become apparent that each of us belongs in a clan of our own, united by a passion for a certain corner of the natural world. The photos that we produce not only do a lot for us on a personal level, but also for the places, flora and fauna that we hold dear through the creation of public awareness, wonder and awe. As Jack Davis implied, if everyone took care of one thing we wouldn’t need to save the wild. We would be doing it every day.
To all of you I say keep sharing your joy through photography! Continue sharing your passion for nature with your family, friends and followers. Together, we are each producing powerful reminders of just how spectacular this third rock from the sun really is — one clan at a time.