Up For A Lark
It is International Migratory Bird Day today so I thought it would be appropriate to feature photography student Amano Tracy’s recent submission to WeAreOCA.
Amano travelled to Ethiopia to photograph the rare Liben Lark as part of his Progressing with Digital Photography course. I asked him to share his experience;
The third assignment for the Level 2 Progressing with Digital Photography course is to provide an editorial feature and I was able to make this assignment as part of a journey to Ethiopia. The main subject was a bird species known as The Liben Lark which has been identified as critically endangered by Birdlife International, hence, this assignment proved to be not just an attempt to make an artistic statement, it was also about conveying an important documentary message. Ornithologists now reckon only about 100 birds are left in the small area it occupies in Southern Ethiopia and will be Africa’s first modern bird extinction.
I had been to Ethiopia on a previous occasion and was able to arrange this trip through the guides who had helped then while a videographer friend accompanied me and shared expenses. In fact, our guides were also involved with the conservation effort to save the Liben Lark and so were able to make basic arrangements such as travel and lodging.
We were able to visit the Liben Plain a few times and noticed apart from the difficulty in photographing a small wild bird in flight from a distance even with a specialised long telephoto lens, there was the problem of recognising it. Our guides however were able to certify which bird was the Liben Lark which we saw as little more than a speck in the sky.
Early twentieth century critic, Walter Benjamin has written about the optical unconscious, the way photography can reveal things we would not normally see; it was certainly rewarding to see this small bumble bee like object from above transformed on the back of the camera where the details of its feathered body could then be examined along with the characteristic hind claws.
Nature photography occupies a strange place in the arts. There is the immense popularity of nature films on TV and an enthusiastic nature photographer community yet it remains largely ignored by the art world. A few names emerge such as Karl Blossfeldt from the early twentieth Century while at present, Jochen Lempert has been selected for the Deutsche Borse Prize yet these are exceptions; nature photography does not seem to have gained general acceptance. This has been discussed by the OCA while a student meeting in the South-West with tutor Jose Navarro suggested that a crude kind of art was being practised in which images were being over-cooked.
While a student at the OCA, I see it as time to explore the medium of photography. The status of nature photography is part of that, as is seeing one’s own way of working from a more detached viewpoint in which one is less identified with the process of making work, and a little more aware of what is around. “The Oak Tree” reminds me of the importance of light; the images were made within a minute of each other and have not been colour balanced.
This piece has been written for 10 of May 2014, International Migratory Bird Day. However, ironically the Liben Lark is not a migrating bird but confined to an area of about 30 square kilometres, a poignant reminder of its fragility if not the fragility of the planet and our place upon it.
Amano’s blurb book ‘The Liben Lark’ can be seen here.