Don't know, feel
My last post generated a fair few comments both online and off. Thank you. It seems my naturally more artistic approach to photographing nature resonates with you.
This was the post:
Sometimes I worry because I’m not a scientist. I’d love to educate, and provide answers. The environmental issues we all experience and observe need context, and understanding, researched solutions and informed action. I’m not a trained scientist, I can’t give that. Sometimes it feels I fail.
As a teenager (I’m now in my mid 50s) I embarked on a career as a professional wildlife photographer. I secured a contract with a wildlife photographic agency, and I supplied metres of Kodachrome 64 of UK small mammals, insects, and spiders. I loved it. I didn’t make anywhere near a living from it though.
With hindsight, my early wildlife images were ‘stamps’, collections of passport snaps of species - however well lit and stalked and staged. They were ‘scientific’ records of the creatures out there, and caught little of my awe spending time with them. My photos were sharp, saturated, static, and scientifically labelled. I delivered what was expected of me.
Leap forward to me in my 30s and 40s. My photography career had changed, I had mouths to feed, and rent to pay. My daily 9-5 (and often late evening to early morning) was now taken up by photojournalistic commissions for non-profits, often in either the arts or homelessness sectors. I surprised myself by being sociable. I enjoyed ‘photo moments’ with stars from theatre, literature, film, and even royalty. Good times, I made friends that will last my lifetime. Sad times, I lost friends to addiction too.
No matter how artistic the setting, stage or film set, ‘photojournalism of the arts’ (as one BBC local radio presenter described my work) is about taking an image as much as making an image. The lighting, the colour, the staging, the action have all been directed and produced by someone else. As a production stills photographer the task is to capture what the stage and location designers have staged and designed. It too, if I’m honest, is ‘stamp collecting’, even if it’s a warm privilege to be invited into the artist’s inner circle and trusted to record their creative work. I delivered what was expected of me.
So how as an artist in his own right does this photographer scratch that artistic itch? By doing what’s not expected of me, that’s what. I rail against balanced natural colour. I rile at forensic detail. I rally for movement and blur. I relish the pictorial and abstract. In the nature photography that I still pursue, I respond to the experience of an encounter with wildlife, not the science and facts of it.
An artist’s work is to create, and in so doing to converse. An artist invites the viewer to engage, to reflect, to react, to be in some way moved.
Recently, I read Dave Goulson’s excellent book, ‘Silent Earth - averting the insect apocalypse’. It’s excellent. It has become the book to read if you’re at all concerned about how few bugs are getting squished on your car’s windscreen these days.
Dave’s a scientist, Professor of Biology at the University Of Sussex in the UK. His book is heavy on well-researched and peer-reviewed scientific fact, written ever so engagingly.
Between each of his chapters, though, he crafts with words a portrait of an insect more revealing than I ever achieved with Kodachrome 64 and a sharp lens. I can thoroughly recommend you read his book, in fact you should.
You see, what he reveals in his writing is that no matter how much we know about a subject it’s what we feel about that subject that might stir us to appreciate it.
So too, readers’ response to my last post has reminded me, I don’t need to be a scientist.
If, as a photographer, I can do anything meaningful about the environmental issues we’re all experiencing and observing, it’ll be to encourage others to feel something about nature, and hopefully to respond to it with greater appreciation and mindful action.
thanks for now,