It all started back in October 1993, when ornithologist, artist and nature photographer, Roger Tory Peterson invited a group of nature photographers to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York. This was the first time that an organized group of nature photographers had assembled in one place, and more than 100 photographers showed up for panel discussions, networking, and presentations. This meeting was so well received that everyone wanted to do it again—and thanks to a ton of work and great organization—by April 1994, NANPA had a founding board, president, bylaws and mission, with plans underway for their first annual conference, which took place in Florida in January 1995. NANPA’s first awards were also bestowed at the 1995 conference when Roger Tory Peterson received NANPA’s first Lifetime Achievement in Nature Photography Award, and Outdoor Photographer Magazine was honored with our first Community Recognition Award.
This is my last letter as president. Gordon Illg becomes president on July 1 and I look forward to working with him this coming year. NANPA is an amazing organization and I know under Gordon’s leadership, NANPA will continue to do great things for its members.
Why should you go to the Nature Photography Celebration?
As the April 9 early registration deadline nears for the Nature Photography Celebration in Jackson, Wyoming, I thought I’d write about questions we’ve been answering lately in the NANPA office.
First of all, it’s a NANPA event; and anyone who has ever attended a summit or regional event knows that they’re fun, educational, inspiring, and you get to hang out with a bunch of friendly nature photographers. Summits are primarily inside at a convention center or hotel, and regional events are outdoor field trips or workshops. Celebration combines the two—indoor presentations plus our schedule allows for free time each morning to photograph and spend time with other photographers and vendors in the field. Or have coffee or drinks together after hours in some of the cool watering holes in downtown Jackson.
Darkness turns to dawn. Birdsong breaks the silence of early morning. Wind-folded leaves shimmy before the arrival of a summer thunderstorm. Earthy smells rise up after the deluge has passed. The first spring wildflower breaks through a warming forest floor. Leaves blush into fall. A child is born. A baby’s stumbling first steps. The euphoria of a first crush and the pains of a first heartbreak. All of these moments contain seeds of beauty worth cultivating into art.
Even the passing of a loved one from this life can summon beauty to walk alongside the pain. Photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson famously understood the beauty that exists in moments of transition: the decisive moments that briefly materialize in the space between two passing planes of existence.
If you take a moment to mentally flip through the photos that really move you, I suspect that many of them are of transitional moments. In this regard, photography has an advantage over other forms of media. Film, for example, may be able to document processes in ways that are impossible for the naked eye, but photography can take that single “throw away” moment and make a monument of it.
A photographer who has the patience and discipline to observe, anticipate and capture these moments stands a high probability of creating images that will spellbind audiences and teach us something special about the world around us. The glue that binds two concurrent events together is as important as the events themselves.
Perhaps this is our art form’s greatest gift to the world.
One of the greatest values that NANPA provides to its membership is advocacy work that supports and protects photographers’ rights. Many members are unaware that NANPA has a dedicated and hard-working team of volunteers speaking up for our rights.
Photographs are our lifeblood, but they are too often freely downloaded and used by people who either don’t know or don’t care that this is wrong. NANPA is part of a coalition of visual arts associations that has been lobbying the Copyright Office to modernize the copyright process for photographers. We are looking for easier ways to register copyright for our images. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to register your copyright with one click from Lightroom and other photo programs? That is what the NANPA advocacy committee is fighting for.
NANPA is also helping to lobby Congress to outlaw the stripping of image metadata by social media and internet services. We are working to establish a small claims copyright tribunal to provide our members with simple, less expensive ways to pursue small copyright claims that are often financially impractical to pursue under the current system. These are potentially huge changes. After a great deal of effort, legislation is finally moving forward. The advocacy committee is also beginning to work on initiatives to help ensure our access to public lands.
A NANPA membership is so much more than admission to a club. We are an organization that has our best interests as photographers at heart. Your support allows NANPA to support you.
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. Continue reading →
We live in a time where the wisdom of the ages is spoon-fed to us through the oracle of internet memes. If you use Facebook or another social media platform, you’ve undoubtedly seen and shared wise, funny or utterly bizarre statements pasted over a photo — often of a confused looking cat, oddly enough — that tug at the heartstrings or strike the funny bone.
A lot of these wisdom bites are throwaways, but occasionally one comes across the crawl that sticks with me. I recently noticed this one: “If one lights a fire for others, it will brighten one’s own way.”
According to some half-hearted internet research, the original quote seems to have come from a letter written in the late 1200s by a Japanese priest and spiritual leader named Nichiren. I’m not sure that the honorable Nichiren would have cared that his quote was passed around on Facebook, but I’m grateful for the insight, regardless of the messenger. Continue reading →
Like most people, I like to kick off the New Year with a fresh burst of inspiration. My January ritual involves purchasing as many books as possible followed by spending the remainder of my winter mentally running from the Montana cold across pages that take me into warm tropical forests, the minds of the world’s greatest artists, and (hopefully) to a better understanding of the craft of photography. Since I’m too busy reading right now to write a very long president’s letter, I thought I’d share some of my favorite books with you instead. Watch for this post on NANPA’s Facebook page, and share your own favorite reads with the NANPA community.
May 2017 become a year of inspiration and adventure for us all.
Comedian David Sedaris is the author of several funny books. A personal favorite of mine is Me Talk Pretty One Day. To be honest, I can’t really remember much about the contents of the book (probably because I never finished reading it), but I can relate to the title. I find it hilarious and, hey, I’d also like to talk pretty one day.
Like most of you, I’ve probably spent way too much time thinking about how to make a good photograph. Me take pretty photo one day is a reasonable, if not somewhat Neanderthalish, mantra that has driven many of us stomping through the woods in search of that El Dorado of imagery: the pretty picture. I’m talking about a photo that you can hold up to your significant other as irrefutable proof that you had no other choice but to spend lots of money on camera gear throughout the year.
Oftentimes when I am loping after that mythical unicorn of photos for too long, my mind wanders. Usually, I start by daydreaming about documenting some rarely seen biological wonder. For you, it might be chasing a blood-red sunset punctured by a perfect “V” of waterfowl heading to their evening roost. Whatever your go-to vision is, you get the picture. I would say pun intended, but that’s just cruel, because we both know that we didn’t “get the picture.” It only exists in our head.
Do you ever wonder what might happen if we could just quiet our minds for a bit longer; push those distracting ideals of what we should be capturing to the side and just be open to the possibilities? Buddhists employ a practice called mindfulness to stay focused on the moment, avoiding unnecessary worry. Sometimes I experience a form of this when I collapse, winded and greedily sucking in air, after chasing after some six-legged critter for too long.
Almost without fail, it is in these moments of surrender when my mind is finally clear that wondrous things are revealed. I begin to take notice of subtle details that soon pull me from a point of frenetic energy to a rapturous examination of the small goings-on within the world around me. The photos that I make during this time surprise and delight me, because they come from a point of give and take.
To stretch a metaphor to its breaking point, it’s in these moments when I’m no longer talking pretty at nature, but rather engaging in a conversation with it. My mind becomes open to feedback and possibilities that I hadn’t entertained before. Perhaps next time I go out with my camera, I should just keep my mouth shut. It has become abundantly clear that the less I talk and think about my work, the better it seems to get.
We have a lot of funny names for what we produce. But did it ever occur to you that the word photography actually translates to “writing with light?” It is a process that is so familiar, and yet, when its meaning and all that meaning entails is dwelled upon, it feels a whole lot like magic. These silly little names that we call our images hardly express what they really are.
As photographers, we have the ability to capture—for all time—the essence of a breaking beam of light through spring foliage, twinkling starlight over a rugged mountain peak, the red-hot rim of fur on a backlit bison, and evening’s fading illumination of a loved one’s face. Forever. A single passing moment, out of countless such moments, saved from the great maw of time. Continue reading →