There is a little story that I love. Unfortunately, I can’t find an actual documented source for it, so its validity is questionable. One thing that I can say for certain is that at its core lies a very important nugget of truth. The tale goes something like this: A budding ornithologist found himself in an engaging discussion late one evening with Roger Tory Peterson – the man credited for inventing the modern field guide and popularizing birding for the masses. “Mr. Peterson,” the student confessed, “with all of the successful ornithologists in the world I am at a loss as to which species to focus on if I am to make a name for myself.” Without hesitation, the brilliant naturalist responded: “Focus on the robin. We all know a great deal about tropical birds but very little about those which are the most familiar to us.” The student walked away cursing the old man under his breath because he had already purchased plane tickets to South America and was immediately creamed by a bus (creative license at work).
So why don’t most nature photographers find local species as engaging as those that they must cross ocean and mountain to feast their eyes upon? My guess is that most of us –myself included– are constantly stricken with a case of (and craving for) visual puppy love. Experience tells us that most people have a strong desire for the “new” and that this fleeting glow is also tragically equated with better. Even sadder, it is often misinterpreted as meaning more important. It reminds me of the story that Freeman Patterson shares in his book Photography and the Art of Seeing about a friend in South Africa who desperately attempts to grow dandelions in her garden while ignoring the beautiful native daisies thriving in abundance nearby. What was it that Andrew Mason said about dandelions? We all seem to want what we can’t have.
In a recent post on the Art for Conservation blog, I proposed this question: What if every major nature photography “star” around the world decided to focus their cameras on their own “backyards” for an entire year? Can you imagine just how much amazing insight into the natural might be revealed? Andrew Parkinson’s brilliant coverage of the Common Moorhen shows just how much rich imagery waits to be mined by a photographer who is passionate about pursuing the familiar.
It seems like we all want to claim the mantle of the conservation photographer these days, but are sadly unable to see that some of the greatest conservation opportunities to be had literally lie right before our own eyes. Wouldn’t it be more noble for the greater portion of us to spend time working to protect and promote an awareness of the species which are commonly found in our world today rather than daydreaming about red-eyed tree frogs and tigers, tigers burning bright? This is all fine and good if you happen to live in Central America or Southeast Asia but for the rest of us, well…I’m not so sure.