Yes, fair enough, it’s my fault for getting bored with the anodyne garbage spewed out of last weekend’s on-line newspapers regarding the “will they won’t they, is it true love for ever CamClegg saga”
In extremis, I clicked on a link to the Telegraph – a newspaper my dad used to take because “at least it makes me angry” and read therein of the amazing exploits of ‘wildlife’ photographer Jonathan Griffiths who has, they said, only had a decent camera for two years. They are certainly good pics of animals but the newspapers concerned are being, at best, disingenuous in promulgating the idea that these shots are something they are not: “…These amazing pictures bring a whole new meaning to coming face to face with danger. Photographer Jonathan Griffiths risked his life as he took these breathtaking shots, just inches from tigers, bears and cougars, capturing the moment a lion came so close it was pawing at his lens”… So, here we go again, the BWH ( Big White Hunter) syndrome that often masquerades as ‘wildlife photography’ but could not be further from what most committed wildlife photographers, working for conservation, do or think.
Follow the link below and you will discover how the articles state that the intrepid Mr Edwards had a three month project during which he ‘habituated’ himself (often in extremely low temperatures) to the environment and to the ‘wild’ animals…and, by the way he is/was a currency trader. His website seems to indicate that he is also now a ‘pro’ photographer – ‘Mr Shutterbug’ whose blog mentions ethics at some length and in an entirely praiseworthy way.
The Telegraph, Mail and others all carry a gallery of shots with more-or-less the same text, obviously lifted from a press release, replete with hyperbole and with very little (if any) editing. One of the cancers of modern (so-called) journalism is just how much material is carried in our newspapers via press-releases from canny agencies. The journalists, often over-burdened, use them uncritically: the agencies know exactly what they are doing.
So, let’s dig a little deeper and follow up the many comments on-line (roughly split between the laudatory and the condemnatory) that follow the newspaper article. The trail takes one to Animals of Montana, an unashamedly commercial organisations that boasts of its supply of animals to films, advertising projects and even to amateur photographers…though, as you will see at $500 per hour for big cats etc it might indeed help to be a currency trader …“Animals of Montana will be sure that you will get the best pictures for your money. Why? Because we do not use snares, leashes or fences. You won’t have to chase the animals around or miss that perfect shot”.
Just for the moment let’s rise above those niggling, inconvenient moral judgments and opinions on treating animals (and nature in general) as an economic resource. The Animals of Montana site runs an endorsement by no less than the photographer Joe McDonald. His work is often truly inspirational but on this one I cannot accord with his views – also expressed in an essay for the excellent NatureScapes.net: in Point of View: Can Photographing Wildlife Models Make Conservation Sense? There is a counter-view in the same series from another ‘photodeity’ Thomas D. Mangelsen: Point of View: Game Farm Photograph … and also a more general tract on ethics Disclosure and Truthfulness in Conservation Photography, a Photojournalism Moral Compass by Cristina Mittermeier and Iñaki Relanzón. All essays make thought-provoking reading for nature photographers who give a damn as these people clearly do.
What sticks in my craw is an attempt, yet again, to portray something as it is definitely not: they are good pictures so why the prestidigitation? Fact: this is not a brave solo photographer working against the odds to get outstanding shots – this is someone who has paid to use the animal facility and the services at all times of an animal trainer …“Wherever your production takes you, Animals of Montana is equipped and ready to go. With experienced and enthusiastic staff, we pride ourselves on specialized trained behaviors; stalking, snarling, leaping, posing, playing, fighting, running, climbing, sitting, rescuing or any desired behavior. We do not use snares, leashes or fences, and you won’t have to chase our animals around. At Animals of Montana you won’t need to write around our animals, they will perform to your script. Our trainers work with our animals daily, training them to perform on command to fit any script.” So, there you have it – crystal clear?
And the sloppy journalism that accompanied the photographs? Par for the course I am afraid and beneath the standard many journalists I know (or have known) employ. But, congratulations to the people who got the story posted in the Telegraph, Mail etc…nice little earner doncha know?
However, let’s not beat about this bush: this is not wildlife photography – it is captive animal photography where the creatures are mere props and a commercial resource. They are almost certainly treated better than in a circus but performers are what they are in an anthropocentric world that views nature as a cash cow (or cougar?) If you go to the Animals of Montana site you will note their plea for your time to “please read out (sic) story” about legal problems they had, allegedly through no fault of their own, with revoked licences where they state that “ We are hoping and praying this will make a difference and the animals can have the life they deserve once again”… Amen to that brother Troy Hyde but some might perhaps differ in their interpretation of phrase “the life they deserve”. Make up your own minds on the matter, though.
Regular readers will know that I am a dinosaur – (not just in physical build or my choice of music) and often feel hopelessly out of tune with people who care little about the exploitation of this planet and its creatures in the pursuit of mammon. This sort of thing demeans us as humans for, however naïve some might think it to be, nature deserves our respect and our honesty; a point we have made time and again on this blog.
If we are (as many seem to think), the superior life-forms on this planet, then perhaps a role as ‘guardians’ might be the one for ‘higher beings’ to embrace? Time, I think to overturn that tired old idea, beloved of world religions, wherein nature is man’s playground – that naive “God gave man dominion…” dogma again. But long after the last whale is slaughtered to satisfy the absurd Japanese claim of ‘scientific research’ or the belching of more oil from holes beneath the sea destroys entire ecosystems… and societies, many who wield power will still resist. Homo (not very) sapiens has an appalling record for action well after the event. The sad thing is that too many subscribe to the view that, during their allotted ‘three-score years and ten’ they have a mandate to rape and pillage for the ‘here and now.’ To Hell (and it truly will be) with those future generations – they can look after themselves.
As I look this morning at a set of pictures that Hannah my daughter has sent me of my bright-eyed and soon-to-be-one grand daughter Tallulah. I feel angry, very deeply angry…but I have, as usual, hidden it so well (!)