Taken this morning just before getting the train to London. A bit pointless, but fun nonetheless.
Taken this morning just before getting the train to London. A bit pointless, but fun nonetheless.
According to the ancient Greeks, procrastination was extolled as something essential for completion of a coherent thought process, and even recommended. This is somewhat easy considering their slaves were doing all the chores, but I am a firm follower of their principals, and this is the reason for the very late review of the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
The quality of the work every year bears all the hallmarks of the competition’s owners. BBC for the quality of imagery and the Natural History Museum for the depth of knowledge both historic and scientific; the winners are not only to be commended for their skill, but more so for their intimate scientific knowledge of their subject. Each image represents one small part of a much wider project, and one image in a competition doesn’t do them justice in any possible way.
The winner, chosen from over 48,000 entries from 98 countries, was Paul Nicklen, who had not one, not two, but three awarded images (disappointingly, two of which are very similar in content – more of this problem later). This is something to be marveled at. One was only runner up in the underwater worlds category, but because another of his own images was better. His journey into the project started merely because he realised that there was some fascinating things about penguins that were yet to be photographed. He subsequently endured freezing temperatures and very harsh conditions to capture what he did.
The context and story surrounding each image were what made some really shine. Kim Wolhuter’s ‘Dog Days’ was of an African wild dog puppy sitting on a dried up waterhole. Kim actually lived alongside the dogs in an effort to protect and preserve the pack. They took time, but eventually accepted him sufficiently to allow him into their den with extremely young puppies. On some days he ran with them as they hunted, and slept wherever they slept. Ultimately it came to very sad end, as he was responsible for efforts to curb the spread of rabies through the pack. After four years with them he was forced to personally euthanise every single member of the pack bar one as they gradually succumbed to the disease. The photo he entered is amazing on any level, but the context was the where the power lay.
It is the context where the competition can sometimes fall short. The landscape section is always to be found lacking. There is no rhyme or reason to enter a long exposure of a coast, a medium format shot of a volcano from a helicopter equally vacuous (Miguel Illana and Hans Strand respectively). They look ok-ish, it doesn’t say anything, and the context is, frankly, boring. Landscape art is something that has always been significant over the years, from Renaissance Italy’s depictions of land wealth to Poussin’s utopian ideals, subverted later by Constable. Other sections of photography explore the genre conceptually in fascinating methods, Simon Norfolk being a brilliant example. It is ridiculous to have such skill on display at the wildlife exhibition, yet absolutely no intent to create something conceptually interesting.
The landscape photographs belie the true nature of the self-professed wildlife photographer. They are not artists, they consider themselves portrayers of truth, but anyone with half a brain can see that just about all photography is art and certainly not ‘true’. All we are left with in the landscape section is lovely pictures, but tedious conceptual emptiness.
Animal photography is slightly different, as it engages on a more personal level. We are shocked, delighted and inspired by the work; it is very powerful. The world in our hands section is arguably the most important; this is where the real issues are discussed (admission of self-interest here, as a photojournalist I am naturally drawn to these stories involving human interaction with the natural world). Paul Hilton’s ‘The End of Sharks’ is shocking to say the least, and the title is entirely justified.
The winner of this section wasn’t great – aside from bearing alarming similarities to Andy Rouse's 'Bear at the Top of the World' (similar photos actually appear twice in the competition, both using a fisheye lens of a Polar Bear in ice looking bored or lost or hungry or whatever). Don’t get me wrong, the plight of the polar bear is symptomatic of some serious problems, but they aren’t the only animals up there. It has sadly become boring; a photographic cliché of a conservational cliché. From 48,000 photos surely there was more variety available?
This is much more a criticism of the judging panel than of the photographers. The images are excellent. I just don’t understand why they chose two extremely similar polar bear entries taken on effectively identical lenses, and the same goes for the very similar penguin entries (albeit less so seeing as the execution of the images was so strong).
All in all though, it was a very enjoyable and inspiring experience. The work looked fantastic backlit in the darkened room and the images were given just praise in their presentation. As we become ever more desensitised and oversaturated by photographs in the world, it is increasingly hard to impress in these competitions, yet this is one that just has the edge for me every year. The photographers go to increasing lengths and extremes to get their shots, and the results are clear. I highly recommend a visit.
So the book is finally finished. I am printing a run of 20 copies. 7 have already been sold, but the rest are still up for grabs. Message me in case you want one for £25. I can sign them if you like, but I suspect they will be more valuable if I don't.
I have just returned from a rapid-fire interview tour in Scotland while trying to finish off this gamekeeper project (for now - when is a project ever finished?). Whilst in Edinburgh, I took a couple of hours to go see the 2020 Vision exhibition in the Royal Botanical Gardens. For those who are not aware of the project, this was the gathering of 20 of the best UK outdoor/wildlife/conservation photographers and giving them 20 months to document some of the UK's major ecosystems and wildlife.
Simply put, it is stunning, the field and journalistic work alike. Parts have already been recognised in the British Wildlife Photography Awards, and rumour has it also the globally-coveted BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
One concern I have always had with wildlife photography is that the presence human influence in UK ecosystems is often not shown. I personally don't believe that there is anywhere in the UK that is truly 'wild', and I don't think many people in this world hold that conviction. We have influenced every corner of the land, for worse and for better, and I can sometimes get a little frustrated that it is not seen in a great deal of images. The ubiquity of wildlife imagery is such that there should be an almost journalistic responsibility to not exacerbate the unrealistic notion of an unkempt wilderness.
This was really the strength of the 2020 project, as the good work of various conservational organisations and local influences were acknowledged and photographed. This put the species photographed into a strong contextual framework, making the already fantastic images even stronger. This grey partridge photo by David Tipling is excellent, for instance, but within the book it really jumps off the page, I know how and why it is surviving and prospering (in this area - recent research by the GWCT suggests grey partridge numbers are in a poor state).
The wildlife work was so good, in fact, that it threw up some difficult questions. This only took 20 months, and was done by 20 individuals (with input from some others). These are the very best in terms of craft and skill, but they are making it look a little easy.
Wildlife photography has been a manifestation of changing attitudes to the land and the wildlife therein. The land is no longer the domain of the landowner and the hunter - it is democratised. This means photographers are now working increasingly hard to make each image exciting and interesting, as good conservation work and access to wildlife experiences are becoming commonplace.
2020 vision has shown that with great skill combined with extensive experience, deep knowledge of the ecosystem and modern technology, these images are more do-able than ever before, and this has developed into a flood of imagery over the years. In doing so, it it going to force this medium into something new - a photo of a grouse will be precisely the same in 10 years time, so we are forced to think outside the box.
In 2020 Vision, these photographers have been brought under one umbrella. They have been exalted, as they should, but they have made a rod for their own back. What on earth will they do next?
Either way, buy the book, it is a brilliant representation of UK wildlife, and there will be surprises in there for everyone. Plus it is only £25 - a bargain for the amount and standard of photography.
I have now spent about three weeks taking images in the highlands, and have come south to collect my thoughts and work out the progress I have made. I always find it is a good thing to get somewhere to collect my thoughts so when I return to the job I come in with an etirely fresh mind with a clear view of what I am missing to give the project strength. Here are a few shots from the work so far:
I have now shot a large proportion of my gamekeeper project, and I hope I have collected a great deal of useable material. The day-to-day ordinary tasks of the gamekeeper are well covered, with one or two more to come from the remainder of the year.
One aspect in the project is landscapes, and how we perceive them. For instance, in the past, classic landscape paintings concerned ownership - the landowner would be pictured with his family or the spoils of a hunting trip in front of a magnificent scene. The spoils might represent the control of humans over nature, the power of man over outdoors combined with the power of the laird over the land. Landscapes were also at times promoted to the level of history-art, the burden of reality being placed onto the canvas rather similar to how it is now on the camera.
I don't want to get into this in too much depth, for fear of revealing a woeful ignorance of the history and meaning of the medium. However, in more modern times landscape photography has taken on the mantle of the tricky genre of history-art. For example, with the likes of Ansel Adams, it comes hand in hand with conservation and with preservation - in both photographic medium and in encouraging conservational attitudes in the viewer. It is through my brief research that I realised the dangers and pitfalls that I am faced with.
One significant point made to me during interviews has stood out. It was that the notion of wilderness in Scotland is a fallacy, that the amount of human influence over time is such that management for improved ecosystems is a necessity. I wondered where we get this notion of wilderness, and started to look into it. The majority of landscape work with conservational and representative emphasis that I can find is fantastic, but in both senses of the word - high quality, beautiful work, but at the same time fantasy, that we are being shown parts of Scotland that are rarified. I even start to wonder if a car park or fence has been cropped out of one side or that the photographer's car is only a few hundred yards away. Admittedly it is unlikely but I am troubled by their perfection. I am well aware that intelligent framing can remove the evidence of man's influence, but why bother? Why do we need to hide this, when it is so ubiquitous, so obvious that man has interfered wherever we go? I started to get the sense that it is tipping the scales from preservation and practicality to nostalgia for a past that is effectively long gone.
With this in mind I have avoided the classic images of skylines and rivers normally seen, and focused on landscape details using a longer lens. All the photos are from the same glen where the gamkeeper works. Most are fencelines as this is an essential part of a healthy Scottish ecosystem structure. I am more interested by the areas of management and not the dramatic views, and the skyline features heavily in the rest of the project (for other reasons...more of this on another post). Some are converted to black and white to accentuate the presence of fencing.
I would love to know what people think of these, and if they disagree with me then even better - please let me know, comment away.
Last week I embarked on what I hope will turn out to be a major project on the subject of the Scottish landscape and one gamekeeper's relationship to it. This subject is one with many bones of contention for all people interested, not least the gamekeeper himself.
The first week turned out to be a relatively hard task, mentally, as the enormity of the job dawned on me. Not only is there the daily family life and the various tasks that a gamekeeper is responsible for, there is also the political side of the work - some see the management of Scottish estates as damaging to the ecosystem and, in some circumstances, cruel - and of course the financial situation for the individuals involved. Others consider the health of the ecosystem in part attributable to the influence of good land management (with a little help from reintroduction and protection schemes, of course!).
So - how can I produce a coherent project from all the facets that face me? There are raptor stories, trapping stories, farming stories, blood sport stories and even taxidermy stories that are all equally viable in coming to a final project, and I have the time to gather all the stories together, but who would look at them, and which ones would people like to see and find out more about?
Please let me know, either privately or by commenting below, as I think a healthy debate in the creation of this project is as essential as the debate itself.
Just going through an old edit from 2010. These are from a beautiful August morning on the Peak District. It had rained for about a month before, and rained again afterwards for a long time, so this was a very fortunate experience. The third image is in a burnt heather field, in case it looks a little confusing.
Gabriel took to the streets of France to produce his excellent work on the art of protest in Paris. This is a brilliant book, uploaded here as a pdf:
If you saw my previous post, you will have seen the first major project that I finished while studying for a masters in photojournalism and documentary photography. The rest of the group produced some phenomenal work, and I hope to put as much of it as possible up here.
The first is 'Waiting for Dexter', by Zephie Begolo (blog here). This is a look at the birth of a child, but focuses very much on the parents and their complex friendship. It is intimate and honest, and I think it is excellent. The introduction is Zephie's:
Waiting for Dexter is an intimate look at the beginnings of a new life in difficult cirsumstances. It details the life of artist Penny Macleod as she approaches the end of her pregnancy and embarks on becoming a mother. Like many women, Penny has opted to be a single mother. Father Martin Dugdale has had difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that the choice about him becoming a father was taken out of his hands. Dealing with the complex feelings that have built up between the estranged pair over nine months, this project highlights the emotional and practical difficulties faced by young women and men who have not planned to be mothers and fathers.
A slideshow I made over the past month is now finished. It is about my mum who has MS, and covers the daily struggles experienced by her. I hope you like it.
Well it is no Cartier-Bresson, but I like it! While working on the edit of a project on MS and my family, I came across this image from the weekend just gone. It stood out so I thought I had to publish it somewhere. From left to right they are the grandfather, the grandson, the uncle and the father.
Sadly the image is totally irrelevant to my subject, so I will not be able to use it!
After a few failed attempts in Leicestershire and elsewhere, I finally managed to get some hare images, with a great deal of help from the excellent local wildlife expert and photographer David Kjaer. It makes such a massive difference with a little local knowledge - it turns out I have been living two miles from a perfect brown hare spot for the past 15 years... anyway here are a few from this morning.
Climbing is a sport I have very rarely taken part in, yet is hugely enjoyable and easy to access (if you have a friend with the expertise and equipment who is willing to take you!). We went to Harrison's rocks in Kent, where the sandstone cliffs are extremely accessible and it is very easy to set up (for your expert friend...).
For a short break from the usual Uni work, and because it was a beautiful afternoon, I visited the Barnes Wetland Centre for the first time this year to take some shots. Regardless of results, it really is a great place to spend the afternoon and relax. On the whole the results were in fact awful, but here's the best of a bad bunch:
...actually environmental portraits, but I feel like I totally missed the point and would do them very differently this time. Anyway, first of all we went to magician DMC's place for some shots at home, then off to the street for some street environmental work: