The Human Animal

It seems that these days, when it comes to photography, I fit better with memories of things past than with the present or the future.

I have written many times on this blog that I use to photograph car races. I have in fact shown a handful of images from that world. Sometimes I like to remember back to a time when I continued to make racing pictures a few times a year, but I was mainly consumed with my passion for photographing nature. I would be standing in a turn at a race track with cars flying by, but I would be watching a butterfly or dreaming of a beautiful sunrise. The handwriting was on the wall and I knew my racing days were about to end. I wanted to immerse myself into nature and put everything I saw into my images. Eventually the inevitable occurred and the racing ended, and I made nature the center of my life.  During that time when I was consumed by nature photography, but I still found time to photograph a few races, a lesson about people was provided to me.

After I had a website up and running, and as my friends from every walk of life slowly joined this thing we call the internet, I had an opportunity to compare the friends I now made in nature photography, and those I knew from racing photography.

My racing friends were admittedly, a hard-boiled bunch. The language used would make a porn star blush. There were some photographers who seemed to lust after crashes more than anything else. Many were excellent photographers but there was a decided lack of sensitivity and creativity to many of their (and my) pictures. They seemed a to be a group that lacked compassion, at least until somebody needed help.

I was slowly making a new group of friends through nature photography. Some photographers, some birders, some environmentalists. Today they are all photographers and environmentalists. They were a nice enough bunch. The birders and environmentalists wanted to save the planet, and the serious photographers wanted to create art. I made many good friends in both groups.

Often times I would mention my past photographic exploits in auto racing to my newer friends, and they were not exactly impressed. In fact when I dared to mention the auto racing background, usually a look that said “oh brother what a crude heathen” would follow. He’s helping to poison the planet. Nobody ever showed an interest in my pictures of that subject. I always felt unclean when I mentioned my past. I learned to not mention it, until a few years ago when I realized that I no longer cared what anybody thought.

Before my nature photographer friends came into my life, I sent most of my racing buddies to my nature related website. I thought I could see it coming. What kind of pansy are you? Yah, them birds are real dangerous!! None of that happened. They not only accepted my nature photography, they were kind and generous with their comments. They were curious and filled with questions as to how I made certain images. Watching a weathered racing photographer, with a cigarette hanging from his lips, explain the gentle delicacy he found in a flower close-up, inspired me to make even more flower close-ups.

A short while back I joined a racing memories group on Facebook. I am having a great time sharing what few old photos I have left of car racing. I am thoroughly enjoying seeing the images and memories provided by others as well. I had no idea that when you post an image in a group, that many of your friends will also see it even though they are not a member of the group. Keep in mind that many of these images were made by using my digital camera to copy a 35-year-old wrinkled and water damaged print, or using that method to copy an equally old and scratched negative. Often even the original image was not sensational. Just a standard picture. Of course the other negative was, that they were car racing images. If I knew that some of the world’s top nature (and other) photographers were going to view and pass judgment ( in their minds) on my car racing photographs, would I have dared to share them? You bet. I am having the best time I have had since joining Facebook.

I am well aware that as the racing people begin to follow who I am, and see my nature photography, it will be viewed by most of them with an open mind, while some of those nature photographers who discover my racing past will proceed to “unfollow” me for my sins.

The good the bad and the ugly exist in any single group of people. All stereotypes eventually prove to have some truth, and a lot of fiction. That’s true of nature photographers and of car racing enthusiasts. I just wonder why it is so often that the ones who are supposed to be crude and bigoted, turn out open-minded and refined, while all too often the artists and self defined intellectuals, prove themselves to be bigoted and lacking in true intellect.

In the end, I guess my biggest passion in life, is and has always been observing the human animal and what makes it tick. Do we choose our path or not? What if one of those “save the world” environmental photographers would have been brought up in a home of car racers? How about those guys in love with yesterday’s racers if they would have gotten their start in life living green with some 1960s hippies? I actually grew up in a world that car racing was a part of, but that also loved camping, beautiful landscapes and wild (and domestic) animals. Maybe my answers are right in front of me. In the end it could be that most of us are a product of our up-bringing. I was fortunate to have had a very fluid childhood. A family that was interested in almost everything.nwDSC_1832

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On a different note, I am seeing something disturbing among some top wildlife photographers. These are the sort of people who have huge followings and in every case they are workshop teachers. Their interaction with wild animals (among some) is becoming predictable. They’ll perpetually have another photographer near-by with a camera. The other photographer is often a buddy but I suspect they are having workshop participants make the photo much of the time. I suppose in some instances it is a cell phone picture. I have seen these admired and heavily followed (copied?) photographers with wild animals at their feet. I have seen wild mammals on the lap of these workshop teachers, and wild birds on their shoulder. Pictures have appeared in Facebook of the photographer nose to nose with wild animals, and handling things like baby Alligators.

These are the people who are the trend setters for the next group of photographers. They are the self-professed keepers of everything wild. They are those who publicly pass judgment on others for not being good stewards of the land, and good friends to wildlife. Certainly they know that as they set the example, not only will others emulate them, but they will exceed what they have done. Everything they do will be multiplied by thousands.

I have often been the critic of those who bait wildlife to get pictures. At least those in this area who do that, are just greedy little boys who care about being a big shot for a day. They don’t effect the behavior of thousands of people.

I know we all can effect animal behavior every time we’re in the field, even when we try not to. I am not a fool, I realize that to whatever degree that happens, it will happen because of the millions of people who now photograph wildlife. That doesn’t mean we can’t do the best job possible, instead of greedily pursuing our own wants.

I have always mentioned that when a wild animal comes close to me on its own, I don’t move. I do let that happen. If I run away every time an animal investigates me, I will modify its natural behavior through the act of doing that. It also can mean an unintended consequence if my subject would panic and attack me. I would probably survive it but the animal will surely be killed by authorities. The point I am trying to make is, I let wild animals do what they want, without effecting them. I don’t use food and other techniques to draw them into my lap or onto my shoulder. No wild animal should see any benefit from what we do when we are out making pictures. If there is no benefit, there will be no consequence.

I thank you for your indulgence and I promise in my next post we will share and celebrate the work of some great photographers.

Have a great day,                                                                                                                          Wayne

 

 

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