Photography allows a particular way of seeing by using a rectangular (in 35mm cameras) frame and paying attention to light and relationship. My goal when shooting is to see if I can capture an image that might draw attention to something that might have otherwise been missed.
For years I upgraded equipment, spending what seemed possible given my circumstances. I talked myself into believing that my eye, my way of seeing, was what counted, but being a nature photographer I wanted to take pictures of birds and that’s where the rubber hit the road. Bird photography requires long lenses and long lenses are heavy and very expensive because the quality of the glass really matters.
Some time ago in an attempt to separate myself from social media political extremism and negativity I purged the social media feeds I had been watching and went looking for groups that focused on nature. There are lots out there and soon my screens were packed with gorgeous images of birds and wildlife. My heart and eyes were happy.
After some months of viewing exquisite images, I started to realize I was losing interest in taking pictures myself. What was the point? I was not, in this phase of life, going to own a 800mm, $16,000 lens. Additionally, my physical limitations meant I could no longer reach the places I needed to get to for the subject matters that interested me. And those social media feeds were delivering perfection multiple times per day.
Some months later I’ve to begin to realize this shared nature photography has become stylized. The “natural” in this new version of nature has everyone straining for etched clarity, each outlined eagle feather crisp with definition. But in these perfected images a part of nature itself is being lost, the context is missing. As if that was not sad enough then came reports of particular kinds of photographic fraud: captive animals used but presented as wild; photoshop composites combining images that never existed apart from computer software; bait being used to draw subjects closer to the photographer regardless of the wellbeing of the wildlife in question.
A long time ago I made an observation about music. I’d grown up with parents who loved to sing and car trips provided opportunities for belting out family favorites. Years later, on trips with my husband and daughter, my instincts were to repeat this happy memory. I was quickly shut down by non-flattering voice critiques. The presence of perfected music made by professional singers in recording studios had changed the playing field. Homemade music, where the act of singing together was the whole point, had been usurped. Nothing short of perfection was acceptable and now that the whole world is connected perfection is possible, perhaps even required. I am certain, or hopeful, there are individuals banding together in sound finding attainable joy in moments of creative sharing. I would like to think that the power of making music together transcends the perfection so seemingly necessary in recordings.
Might it now be time to reduce the trend and abandon the pursuit of perfection in all creative endeavors and focus on the sheer joy of the creative process itself? And to photograph those birds with their natural surroundings evident?