Changing the Perspective of Conservation

by Will Clarkson in , , , , ,

Photography is heralded as one of the mainstays of the green movement, at times a re-teller of incontrovertible truth, at other times the tool to promote iconic species and engender support for a charitable cause. History shows it can be a force for good, but it is far from the perfect tool.

This is highly relevant in conservation initiatives, imagery is a key element to the dissemination of their successes and failures. I've discussed wildlife photography at length here, here, here and here, so I won't again. 

A question rarely asked is, what do we actually want and expect from the land? When can we stop conservation? A juggernaut-sized industry has gained momentum over the years. It's a simplistic view but has anyone (George Monbiot aside) said what their ideal scenario is? What are we striving towards, or are we just resisting what we don't like? Are we more interested in social politics or conservation? 

Increasingly, however, this is changing. George Monbiot's writing and public speaking are excellent examples. The conversations have changed too. Tropes such as save the capercaillie are more like let's have green bridges (perhaps a bad example seeing as we are trying to save the caper still at great expense), protect the pine marten has maintained importance but now the discussion is centred on trophic cascades. Save the Whale ocean to ocean is now a part player in the new science looking at the world's seas as one mega ocean, a far more constructive method of analysis. Looking at the bigger picture will reveal the most relevant hotspots to change.

This is reflected in photography. A good photo essay takes into account the wider picture, and in doing so adds material context to the details and the small stories within the big pictures. Increasingly the photographers involved in conservation call themselves journalists or investigators. The realisation is that the plight of every ecosystem lies in the downstream processed-for-humans version of them. Put another way, in humans lie the problem and the solution. 

The best conservation photography is therefore pointed at humans; at the meeting point of them and the wild. The wild can look after itself if we give it sufficient license to do so.