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.