I must reckon have had this post in mind for some time already. It all started some years ago, when I saw guys in videos running around freezing environments in short sleeves crying around and holding the tripod as if it was a spear, about to being thrown against Mother Nature to steal from her a killer shot, a trophy photograph, a forum-raver, a social network viral post, a pay-to-win-contest award and a soon-to-be-saturated-and-tweaked new image to be added to the collection of another hunter-of-the-shot-forget-about-the-experience-you-are-here-to-grab-it-and-run kind of person.
You might by now discover a certain irony and bitterness in my tone. Maybe it is because once, I was one of them? Or maybe not. Or maybe a bit. Maybe all of us start like that. We love Nature, we love photography, we put it together, and the cocktail explodes. For some time, we run with “the shot” in mind. We dilute the experience we once liked so much, and the camera becomes a barrier. Then we taste the sweet flavors of public appraisal, and the truth is it tastes so good… You want some? Just go and post your image on FB. Some more? Easy, post it on G+. Chances are you will get some dozens of likes, I add that, I put that on top of my head, or maybe collect a number of “awesome-man” awards for free and given in different sizes and measured in kilograms.
Too much temptation for the ego we all have inside. Too much pressure from the gurus of marketing. Just too much barriers to go on being “simply” a nature photographer…an artist…Or maybe not?
I must confess that more and more I realize that all that temptation, all that circus taking place around me has helped me to deviate from that treacherous river. A river which leads to the sea of abominations in the art and practice of photography, of self-expression, of finding and showing to the rest of people who you are, of using photography as a life style which opens your eyes and your heart to what surrounds you, a tool which encourages you to give to people without thinking of what you will get in exchange. Even if when I started I swam in the same flow as anybody else, I realized and still I realize every day that the only reason I dumped all my career to devote myself to nature photography was not to make money, fame, inflate my ego, chase for the killer shot or become the best nature photographer of all times. I became nature and landscape photographer because I loved being nature and landscape photographer. Do I need money? Yes, because I want to go on doing that and I need to pay bills which seem to arrive whether I want it or not. Do I need appraise from my peers? Yes, because it is kind of nice and serves me to evaluate from outside the box how my vision is evolving. Do I need to become the “best” photographer out there? Nope, because it is simply impossible. Even if I were the best, I would still need to compete with myself, which is virtually impossible by definition since as artists we never stop growing. So in a way, I am thankful I realized a number of things and simply reached the shore of that treacherous river, from which I still see many swim like crazy trying to reach that sea of never-ending-rat-race in the field of nature photography.
All this rant and sorrow comes from an attitude I see more and more around the community of landscape and nature photographers. Bit by bit, it seems like delicacy, intimacy, introspection, reflexion, poetry, etc in photography is undermined and seen almost as not “proper” for a real “man-photographer”. If you want to become a nature photographer, you’d better wear short sleeves, run through deserts with beard of 5 days, swear and scream with a knife in your teeth, looking for the next “photo-victim” to fall under the weight of your tripod. A kind of modern version of the Neanderthal mammoth hunters looking for the trophy, the killer-shot, with the difference that those ancient guys tended to say thank you after the kill by painting on the walls of a cave, when modern ones limit themselves to post the image in the walls of a social network just to collect more “wows” and “awesomes”.
Do not take me wrong, I have nothing against sharing our images with others. In fact, photography without being shared is nothing at all, and our audience gives a big dose of meaning to what we do. We do what we do (or at least we should do it) for sheer passion, and there is nothing stronger and more beautiful than wanting to share our passions with others. A “client” shedding a tear when looking at any of my photographs is more valuable to me than all the money that client can pay into my account. What I am saying however is that focusing on the audience when we take photographs is normally a great disguise for the reality: we are photographing not for others, but for our egos, and we see others just as a pump to inflate that great balloon we esteem so much.
The other day I was reading an interview of Michael Kenna. A great artist, life liver and photography poet who said something which resonated inside of me so strongly. When we photograph we should not be stealing photos from the land, raping it, killing it, grabbing a trophy, hunting a shot, capturing, recording, imposing ourselves on what is out there as if that out there had no spirit in itself…We should just be listening to what (who?) we have in front, establishing a connection, a dialogue. We should be asking permission to make a photograph, be making a friend, showing the photograph to the subject and saying “this is how I saw you today, see you soon” since we will surely come back to grow on that relation. I could not agree more. Basically, I imagined trees could photograph and thought: Would I feel good if a tree would grab a photograph from me without saying a word, run and post that image just to prove how great he was as a photographer? Maybe I would feel pity for him, since had he asked me first, I would have adopted a special pose for him, or make my flowers bloom just for the great occasion.
Please, next time you grab your camera and go out there, think out loud: Am I a listener, or am I a killer?
Personally, I have realized that the more I listen, the more I realize how deaf I was before…In the end, nothing needs to be killed. Life alone will do that for everything which exists. Do not kill it thus, just enjoy it while it is alive.