It has been a revelatory week in many regards. First, in just getting into the mechanics of how the course is structured and how the learning process will be undertaken. Second, realizing how much I enjoy the stimulation of being back in a “formal” learning environment and having a focus instead of the “Brownian motion” approach to learning my everyday life has taken for a number of years. Third, by how impressive the talents of my fellow classmates are, and the interesting and diverse backgrounds they possess. I am really looking forward to the next two years of learning with them and from them as we collectively make our way through the course of study. Fourth and lastly for this post, how even this first week’s studies have prompted me to think about my practice in a very different way. I knew coming in to the program that I felt my worked lacked context and purpose other than producing technically and aesthetically beautiful images of things I found interesting. Finding a way to add context and more purpose was what I needed to discover both about myself and about the potential my practice holds.
When the concept of global images was introduced I found myself a bit skeptical. I thought about it in terms of my current work and much of my past work which largely excludes people from my images and could not see much universality. I still hold to the idea that something in addition the photograph is required to convey context and intention, and to evoke action in most all cases. However, I was struck by the power of the images my fellow classmates produced to evoke emotion and visceral response. All of their images included people, and I think, even though I may have come to a different conclusion about the subject or point of the image than was ultimately explained by the photographer, I reacted based on my own human experience and related to those photos through my own filters and biases. I do not think my work generally evokes that sort of response.
There is a certain element of detachment in my work in that I shoot mostly with very long lenses, and my subject matter does not convey emotion in a human context. My work is usually about trying to bring close things that most people cannot see. The clarity of a catchlight in the eye of a soaring raptor, the intricacies of the pattern and structure of the feathers of a small bird, or seeing a woodpecker extracting an insect larvae from the trunk of tree shows in a level of detail something generally not seen. It certainly can evoke a “wow” response, and it can inform and add to the body of knowledge of individuals or society, but is that enough? I don’t know yet.
Why do I photograph wildlife and nature? In reflection, I suppose there are at least a couple of answers. There is an honesty and unambiguity that is not possible in photographing people. Because we share a human experience, albeit perhaps a quite different one, we make inferences and judgements based on our own experiences, and they may be quite far from the actual reality. I do not think that happens in looking at nature photography. The interpretation is generally unburdened by our own experiences and can therefore be viewed accurately as simple truth. The second answer probably has to do with the window and mirror analogy, and I suppose I am more comfortable as a window to the world. Photographing people seems to reveal quite a lot about the photographer and I have lived most of my life not revealing much about myself to very many people. It is not that I fear revealing myself, at this stage of life anyway, but more that I felt my work is not meant to be about me, but rather what I could produce. And maybe that is the most revealing thing of all.
In closing, I will reiterate what a good week it has been and state for the record how excited I am to be on this journey. There remains much to be discovered about me, my work, and our place in the world.