This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
You do not see much in the way of nature photography in the British Journal of Photography, and the above image (an advert for the BJP itself) made me wonder why?
It was not just this image however – it was a number of things coming together. Firstly, there was the spur holiday purchase of Mark Cocker and David Tipling’s Birds and People. This book takes as its starting point not the usual approach of characteristics, habitat and prevalence, but rather the relationship between people and birds. The Guardian has a slideshow which gives an excellent flavour. Personally I found I straight away recognised that the text was trying to do something different, I am less immediately convinced about the photography, but then I would be lying if I pretended I have really sat down and read the book in depth.
Then Jane Horton sent me a link and said ‘why don’t you blog about this?’ The ‘this’ is a rather lengthy video featuring Tim Flach talking about his work. The tigers don’t do much for me, but the section on the chicken woke me up.
So what is it about wildlife photography that has painted it into a corner, excluding it from serious critical discussion? In landscape photography it is recognised that there is a world of difference between the aspirations of different practitioners. Is this not so in wildlife photography? If photography is a language, a means of communication, can it not say anything serious about the natural world?
As it happens, student Keith Greenhough, was in the office to collect his assessment work, and was able to immediately point me to part of the problem. The world of wildlife photography might be trapped in the self-limiting discourse of prowess. It’s not about communication, it’s about being the best. Consider the title of one of the major competitions for the genre: Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Promoted by the Natural History Museum and the BBC, it celebrates the photographer of the year, not the most impactful photograph or body of work.
George Monbiot advances a different argument, it’s snobbery. Actually, his article is more nuanced than this and doesn’t relate to photography per se, but I think you get the point. Art and a concern about nature are oil and water and anyone who expresses an interest in the natural world is no longer cool for art school.
Does any of this matter? Well yes I think it does, but I am not entirely sure and I certainly haven’t got to the bottom of why it might matter. What do you think?