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Tuesday, 16 March 2010


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I'll take the job without the parasites and worms wriggling in my feet, thank you. If ever there were an argument for remote-controlled robot cameras, that guy's clever water-level shot is it. I can almost guarantee you that he will never be free of parasites after that. Bottom line: disclosure is worth avoiding the IV pesticide treatment.

Agent Smith had it right 100% dead on-- mankind is a virus...

WOW! Those Ansel Adams scenics sure are beautiful!

The ideal still exists; and the reality never did. If one is a Platonist, trying to show the ideal is serving a higher truth; it's not any kind of fib.

This is yet another place were the best is the enemy of the good, in fact.

It seems to me the strong majority of the tradition of Western art favors striving for the ideal.

So I guess I'd agree that you are taking a fairly radical position here.

Civil rest is overrated. Civil unrest is by far more photogenic.

Inequality of rights is unfairness. Inequality of life is not necessarily unfairness. Equality of life can only be obtained by coercion and is inevitably attained at very low standards of living. Needless to say, equality has never brought happiness.

Mike, your radical approach to photography resonates with me, especially after having recently finished reading "Truth Needs No Ally." You also speak to a conundrum I haven't fully settled for myself -- that succesful art speaks to universality through the particular. I know that wrestling with that puzzle will probably require the rest of my life to explore photographically.

Your points and perspective are spot on. There are far too many times that photographers aim to deliver "pretty" in their work, almost always at the expense of truth. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with pretty, beautiful photographs, but there's also quite a bit right about tough, hard, "ugly" photographs.

We wield one of the most powerful truth-telling tools that have ever existed. It would be wonderful to see more truth get told with them.

-Steve Goldenberg

Sorry to violate your idealist wish, but I can't help but think about religious beliefs as another societal element that, even in a more socially and financially egalitarian world, would likely lead to unrest. But, that's another topic.

Back to photography... for me, truth is stranger than fiction, and pictures are everywhere...no need to stage them. That's one of the joys of photography.

Mike, yours is an interesting take. You might enjoy reading "An Exceptional Debate" by Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in the March 8 issue of National Review. The same issue has an article about cruelty toward animals.

I'm for the scraggly deer pictures, only here in northern New Mexico it's scraggly coyotes.
James Beinke

Mike, I couldn't agree more - if only we could just tell it as it is and not have to prettify everything until any semblance of reality is is just a shadow.

Oscar Wilde (I think) said words to the effect that, 'the problem with photography is that a painter can take apretty model, paint her and name the picture 'Juliet at her Balcony' and that is believable, but when a photographer does the same it is still Miss Jones from number 43.'

I wish we could do what photography does best and then there might be some power in the pictures. Now we live in a world where commercial photographers admit to 'improving' their clients looks even without telling them. To quote a 'professional', 'Any ameteur with a digicam can snap an accurate likeness of his daughter/wife/sister - but they come to a professional to make them look better than reality (even when they don't ask if they've been photoshopped).'

Of course, I'm just one person and have one voice, but it really seems to me that everything has reached a point that is damaging to simple photography. I know that there will be many voices that disagree and believe the image is all, but I just don't buy that.


I'm in total agreement. However, if we all play fair, there will be *someone* who realizes they can get ahead by misrepresenting their work/not playing fair. And the temptation to do so will be too great for them to resist.

A lot to chew on here - a story very well told. Photographically, I agree with what you say (and otherwise as well, but you wanted us to stick to photography), but the wonderful free market 'demands' that photographers produce a never-ending supply ofcalendars and coffee-table books chock full of photogenic deer, polar bears, and mountain lions, no matter the struggle that these species (well maybe not the deer) face.

Essentially, people want the world to be a beautiful place and will pay good money for photographic evidence that it is. Your truth-tellers will never be as popular or as richly rewarded as your fabulists and wish-fulfillers. Oops, now I has a sad.

I will confine most of my comments to the photographic aspects of the post except to say we are pretty much on the same page. As a matter of fact in your TOP comment guidelines item #5 you specifically ask us to refrain from political rants and provocations but since it's your site you can do whatever you want. Seems like I read that here several months ago...... When we were young we were taught that withholding the truth is the same as a lie. Not disclosing that a photo is posed or of a trained or captive animal is a lie, It is NOT wildlife phoptography, it is zoo photography....and I've seen some good zoo photography.

I had some "great" comments until you directed us to stay on TOPic.

People "buy" the ideal, the archetype, i.e., there is a market for it. It is much easier than, as we say in Zen, "facing the wall". But reality is the only way to true liberation; sometimes it's only a cataclysmic event that forces awareness and response. The earth will survive, our species may not.

OK, a little OT; at least we have Magnum and similar groups to document the real.

A group that's trying to achieve some of what you're writing about: International League of Conservation Photographers http://www.ilcp.com/

"Our mission is to further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography. We believe that awe-inspiring photography is a powerful force for the environment, especially when paired with the collaboration of committed scientists, politicians, religious leaders and policy makers. We plan to replace environmental indifference with a new culture of stewardship and passion for our beautiful planet."

They gave a presentation at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival three years ago. I think they were just getting going and I haven't been following them.

I was originally going to post something about your initial paragraphs but will respect your PS.


A little screaming now and then is a good thing. Is there such a thing as a polite scream, I would like to think so. Maybe call it expressing your beliefs - loudly!

Shelley Stallings

Hear, hear.

I would certainly agree, but I wouldn't call it "radical," I'd call it "ethical."

It seems to me that photography has an *innate* quality that has to do with specificity and time, and that the very best photography doesn't represent one thing as something it isn't. That's even the case with photographers like Jeff Wall who make up every element of their photos -- we know that it is made up (we're told that) and that with people like Wall (or Crewdson) we're told, "This construction is my reflection on society and art." Neither one says, "This is the unedited reality of American life in 2010."

The photographers of tame wildlife tend to misrepresent their subjects -- how often have you seen a great wildlife shot of a running lion or cheetah that says, "This was shot on a wildlife farm and we had to chase the lion with a truck to get her to run." I would venture to say, uh, "Never."

At one time, in the newspaper business, there was a very harsh ethic of faking nothing. Some shots, of course, were set up -- "Stand over here and shake hands while I take your photo," but there was nothing particularly fake about that. What you saw was two guys shaking hands, represented that background story (an agreement on something) and was easy to evaluate. But if you threw a shoe into the death scene of a kid on a bike, and used the shoe to dramatize the absence of the owner, and the tragedy, you were in big trouble. Like career-ending trouble.

Then came Photoshop, and the slippery slope. Instead of the thrown football being just out of the frame, as the WR reached to catch it, why not move the football to his fingertips? Better photo, and it really happened exactly that way, one instant later, didn't it? From there -- from that fake - it's a very short step to propaganda, as we saw in some photos from the Iraq war.

The value of photography is in its realness, IMHO. When it's systematically compromised, with photos that say "wild" when it's not wild, "war crime" when it's not a war crime, etc., you're no longer dealing either with art or reality -- you're dealing with bullshit.

By the way, if somebody took a shot of a lion that didn't say "wild," -- "This shot of a lion in the San Diego Zoo shows how much larger they may be than cheetahs," then it's okay. It's the statement that counts and the context, just as with any lie.


Mike, are you sure you aren't swedish? Well, maybe danish....
Keep it up, best regards.

And how Mike...

I often find myself all ready to reply with a well reaasoned response, and you often turn round and say in words, what I think, but could never write.

"I don't own photography, of course, and it's not up to me to tell anyone else what to do, and anyway my base position has always been that everybody should do whatever they want to as long as it's not hurting anyone. Full disclosure is good enough. If you photograph captive animals, just say so. "

"The list will go on and on, and it will include some of the elemental animal paragons that parade proudly though children's books today. Tigers. Polar bears."

And who will make the photos when we humans are gone?

Some people take photos of model animals and some people beat their kids.

I'll take the models.

One of the best things I've read. Should have donated ages ago, have done now. Thanks Mike.

Mike, photos of mangy, tick- and flea-infested deer might upset our children. Shame on you for suggesting we even look at those kind of photos. Snow White anyone?
Photos of animals or other things on this planet are no more or less then a photo of that particular subject. How it was taken is up to the written word and honesty.

Of course you're a radical. Classical liberalism is all about finding truth in human expression. Classical conservatism is all about making established forms into truth. Radical neo-liberalism was about exploring human expression; modern neo-classicism is all about denying human expression, instead shaping expression to fit markets. Photography is above all else a search for the truth of the moment, the ultimate radical endeavor.

No doubt everyone has their own definition of "straight". In photography terms, how much can much can we manipulate the scene / shooting technique / editing and still call the picture 'straight'?

For example is Ansel Adams work an example of 'straight' photography? Using a large DOF when shooting and lots of dodging and burning afterwards to adjust tonality. Ansel's photographs (ignoring the fact they are B&W not colour) provide a different view from what we would see with the naked eye.

For the extreme case, the last two experiment of making a total "equal" (with some more equal than the others) is Soviet Union and China's cultural revolution. I still thought that in those days there are still people who believe in communism. In the other extreme I heard in my political study that we have era when if you believe in egalitarianism a bit, you are "unAmerican". We have reached a time such simple world view has gone. Other than religion, I think we are more accommodating and less radical. Still, different people are biased to different thing. I do not believe in egalitarianism but some social safety net and more importantly getting children to have equal chance is top priority. It is easy to send astronaut to the moon to solve the unemployment issue. But in general we are not too bad from a human point of view. Not ideal but not too bad.

But if we look at it from a non-human point of view, i.e. as regards to whether we the homo sapian is just a pest and the worst disaster the Earth has, I am not sure. I hope not but are we?

Back to the photography. I think many of the photos we saw are try to sell something (the photos, the cloth, the woman, the tour, ...). If one's aim is to sell then we buy it, then we will see more of what has been sold successfully, a sort of darwinism. People sell what other human want to see. If it happens some sort of reality can be sold (as one time CNN represent), we will have that. OTOH, if a woman walks in the catwalk sold, it would be done. But now we have much more equal world. We do not need to a lot to get to a level of photography (especially film or digital-on-screen) compare with 1970s. Imagine you saw guys having a D3 walk a street and he is not a reporter. I think we are in a better world. You can have the resources to get a picture that one likes with no bound to contract/project/idea/message. We can easily do what one like is something perhaps most likely as a hobbist. In that sense, we actually live in a better era. Resources is ok (e.g. a D5000 with a kit lens plus a 50 f1.8 and an extension ring plus a tripod can do something quite decent compared with a film camera in 1980s). Atmosphere is ok as we do not need to photo to glorify anything. The world is much more accommodating and less conformist. Our mind is more free to experiment and try different. I still believe that we are in the gold era of film photography and start of digital gold era (only if we can sort out the printer).

Well, at least I hope taking photos to express oneself is, like you say, does no harm to others. I do not believe that there is a major industry to capture whales so that we can take photos of captive animal, Ocean Park not count. Photography industry is still not too much as a pest, not like the movie industry (which I heard can destroy a whole lake so that they can take a movie and which still beyond normal people can do).

Hi Mike,

I have to agree; we're out of balance, both internally and externally, as a species.

And, yes, if we're going to shoot wildlife (and we should), let's make sure it's actually wild life. Else, we might just as well stay in the studio. Which would be boring, IMHO.

What better way to spend a day or several than out learning the ways of various critters and figuring out how best to capture a part of their lives and, dare I say, personalities? It's a very meditative and even joyful experience to so celebrate the wonderful miracle of life.

I think too many people get caught up in the photograph as a product in and of itself -- alpha and omega. Instead, the photographs should follow and reflect the experience, letting us share some small element of it. Trying to fake it just makes it a cheap and soulless exercise.

Radical, indeed. ;-)


Bravo, Mike! What a breath of fresh air.

Rod S.

I've never studied Plato (no philosophy 101 - I even got through high school and college without ever taking a biology class !) but I like this line of thinking. I developed an appreciation for what the practice of photography has done for my day to day interest in viewing of the world around me, and recently saw a quote in someones forum sig by Dorothea Lange:
"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera."

I've always admired photographers who can previsualize a result and achieve it through post processing, through lighting, through studio setups. I don't have that kind of creativity in me. But I'm increasingly at peace with that. I photograph what I see that interests me and the more I photograph, the more I see that interests me.

Magazines like Outdoor Photographer push the idyll on amateurs like fashion magazines pushes ideals about beauty. Many years ago, I did all I could to avoid having *people* (those "weeds" !) or any sign of human civilization in my photographs (a fools errand as there's precious little pristine forest, but I didn't carry it that far). Maybe some of it is due to me maturing, but I find people (and our homes and cities and barns and fences) increasingly fascinating and certainly more accessible than what's interesting in nature.

"Oops, now I has a sad."

You got that right. It's tremendously, hugely, oppressively sad. I don't even really blame the people who don't want to or can't face it. I really don't blame them.


"It seems to me the strong majority of the tradition of Western art favors striving for the ideal."

Precisely why photography was, and remains, inherently subversive.


Thank you, Mike.

This is the sort of thinking that brings me to your site at least once a day.


"I'm not saying there shouldn't be rich and poor". Wow, and they call you radical! I shouldn't say what I really think ;-) That ought to be the free and modern world they tell us we are living in...

Mike, how long are you around, and how long are you elaborating on very sophisticated thoughts on art and philosophy and human existence in general? And yet you feel the need to state what I have quoted in a preemptive excuse for tentatively demanding a, a, a bit more fairness and maybe, but only maybe if their oligarchic majesties allow, fewer human casualties of the capitalistic outrage that afflicts our society at the moment (200 -+ years).

Before I go on and lose sight, I just dare to ask: why is your official reason for demanding a bit more equality only the bourgeois wish for civil rest (which in reality plays in the hands of the beneficiaries of the cruel status quo who basically demand the same in order to bring in their profits undisturbed), and not an inherent human need for improved conditions? Don't get me wrong: on the one hand I appreciate you solely mentioning the topic, but at the same time I don't get why you don't draw the final conclusion. Do you really think that a little more fairness is a long term perspective for all of us?

Bravo, Mike. Next please take on hypersaturated and HDed ecopornography landscapes.

"Mendacity!" to quote Big Daddy - "Mendacity!"

- Bill Poole

Heck, I'm probably even more radical than yourself, in that I question the very idea of "nature" - and most people would probably consider a lot of my work "nature photography."

There have never been clear, bright lines between the "tainted" human world and the "pure" wilderness, and it does both our art and our society a disservice to elide over the connections. That scruffy deer tells as much as story about human-non-human relations as any Platonic Deer might, and we're far more likely to have to deal with and make decisions about the scruffy deer than the ideal version. Using our photography to remind people of the messiness and connections of actual life is one of the most valuable tasks a photographer can undertake, I believe. Scott Russell Sanders described being a creative nonfiction writer as being an honest witness, and I think that obligation holds for photographers as well.

Trends in photography between the human interest and wildlife draw intersting comparison in this regard.
On the human side there seems to be an ever increasing trend to the rough side: poverty, violence, war. Carefully selected slices that seem to make things out worse than they might actually be.
And yet we want our wildlife cute, cuddly, majestic. Carefully selected slices that miss the fact that wild is red in tooth and claw.

I believe that was GB Shaw and used by Szarkowski in The Photographer's Eye

Isn't it something when common sense can be considered radical?

We don't want the truth. We can't HANDLE the truth!

Weed Species? LOL Don't know about that but "Greed" species seems appropriate at times. Humans we could have done better.


Thank you for sharing,awesome post.

As someone who spent months in the wilderness to find wolves and grizzlies as a graduate ecologist, I completely agree with the ethic of showing what's reality. Which is... they are very difficult to find outside of a few choice spots. Even with using road kill as bait for camera traps, we rarely saw a grizzly, never a wolf. And after decades most never see a cougar.

There's a reason so many people go to Yellowstone for wolves and Brooks Falls for bears. Without radio tracking, most are too rarely seen. And often they are mangy or have scars and wounds. And never behave like you see in captives. If you want to show a real sample of what's out there, your going to be have to suffer hypothermia, frostbite, heatstroke, mosquito's, deer flies,horse flies, black flies, exhausted muscles, blisters, sunburn, and so forth. But, on that very, very rare occasion you see something, then you are left with a true and profound sense of place. I'll never forget the first close encounter with a Coastal Brownie in Alaska, 10 feet away. Completely forgot to lift the camera. Mental image is still etched in my mind though.

I think that money skews many things. Certainly it skews our perspective.

Even though we have very rich people today, the average person's standard of living, at least in the developed countries, has never been higher. The standard of living in the developing world has also increased to its highest in history. Certainly the Chinese and Indians who are becoming more affluent in today's world have never lived as well. Now, this doesn't mean that I applaud the rampant consumerism that is pushing people who make a couple thousand US dollars a year to go out and buy DKNY or Gucci... but caveat emptor is much older than modern Western civilization.

Yes, species are dying out, but this has happened throughout the history of the world. In any competitive environment, the winners take more and more and the losers are squeezed out. It is happening to small businesses when the Big Boxes move to town, it is happening to the US where economic realities make us increasingly unable to compete with offshore manufacturing, and it is even happening in China where other Asian nations are starting to undercut Chinese manufacturing and labor rates. The question is, what do we do about it?

All of the solutions I've heard from the radical perspective require us to unilaterally surrender... to abstain from children, or consuming. Problem is, demography is destiny. Europe is on an almost unreversable course to no longer being inhabited by people of European descent. The US reduces its oil consumption, but China takes up the slack, and then some. If only the people who value the environment and human rights stop reproducing, then the world will soon be inhabited only by those who do not value the environment or human rights.

I'm not saying I know the answer. But, as you point out, facing the truth is the first step. It starts with choosing leaders who have the courage to tell us what we already know. We're not there yet.

Mike very well said.

As many have said, that by not playing to the market forces, they risk business loss; because most people want "more", as opposed to be content with "sufficient".

The same is true about photographers, for example some "enhanced reality" photos of Mr. Smith while documenting WWII.

Amply demonstrated, time and again, that human nature has to be controlled, if the change has not come from within. A glaring example of which is the current failure of Allen Greenspan hypothesis: Given the freedom, greed will regulate itself.

As you mentioned a little declaration at the bottom goes a long way.

I can't either agree or disagree with you because I really don't completely understand what you're suggesting.

It's been argued that platonist's 'ideas' might very well be myths. But the thing with myths (so goes the said view) is that we can only judge them based on their results. Useless myths get trhown away, while useful ones stand (as long as they remain useful, of course). So I guess the point would be what a picture 'does' (¿what is it good for?). You claim there's no need to keep 'idealizing reality'; but some may see it the other way around, and claim the need for a 'romanticized ideal' to be a much more urgent matter. BTW, there seems to be no way to show that the 'crude reality' view is less of a myth (less of an 'ideal') than the oppossite. Which is, by the way, what happens in photography all the time. No picture will ever provide us with a faithful representation of what 'really' went on in front of the camera. I contend that NO photograph is completely about either 'the specific' or 'the ideal'. Of course I agree with you that verbally lying is just plain WRONG. But that's just because it harms not only the truth, but more importantly other people (and usually even the liars themselves).


Sorry for the link clutterdom, but I found this Paul Burwell article a while back. I'm not sure whether adding 'CA' (captive animal) is a recognised image tagging convention, however it's one that Mr.Burwell employs upon his non-free subjects - irrespective of whether they're in a zoo or 'planted' outside in the wilds.
As for civil rest:
Hasta La Siesta Siempre!

I've been trying to assimilate your column Mike, and all I can come up with is the first verse of a song I wrote called Life Waits On No One:

Time has a way of slippin' away,
Gettin' wasted along the way.
Never the same day by day,
Trunks of memories along the way.

On "archetype" vs "specific", here is what Diane Arbus said:

"There are an awful lot of people in the world and it's going to be terribly hard to photograph all of them... It was my teacher Lisette Model who finally made it clear to me that the more specific you are, the more general it will be."


(1) I am astonished and deeply impressed that the comments to this post have, for the most part, managed to stay on (photo) topic. There may be hope for the Internet after all...*

(2) Thanks for the link, Ken. That link put a very practical and logical spin on this entire discussion, and also provided some additional insight into the treatment of the animals at Triple D.

Best regards,

(*OK, I'm exaggerating slightly for effect.)

The attitude that animals have always gone extinct is both correct and wrong. Yes, there's been several waves of extinction. But the extinctions since the last ice age are usually attributed to humans. North American megafauna, Australia, European lion...

Furthermore, the current extinctions, particularly the large animals, are directly and indubitably the resposibility of humans. Not only the mass killings like the NA bison or the passenger pigeon or all those animals killed for their fur and appendages. We are responsible for all those animals dying because of the loss of the habitat or an insurmountable break in their migration routes.

Therefore, we are also responsible to mend the situation and to show what really happens if we don't mend it. Disneyfication of the world is nice when you're five years old. When you're older, it becomes the "ostrich" strategy which only leads to ruin. The projects like the Pleistocene Park in Russia and the initiative to re-create the North American prairie are more than welcome, but a general awareness is still lacking.

Offtopicity... :) Mike, there's a book by the Czech writer Yaroslav Hasek you should read, if it's translated. It's called The History of the Party Of Moderate Progress Within The Limits Of The Law. :) BTW, in my experience, "radicals" and "lefties" from the States are usually quite to the right of their European counterparts.

Thanks Mike. It's tempting to dive in with lots of words about all of this. Instead, an offering of a related 'good read' is, "Affluenza" by Oliver James ISBN 9780091900113


About 20 years ago, I was at the Toronto Zoo in front of the gorilla compound. There was a group of us staring at this one ape, who was about ten feet away, staring back at us.

Beside me was a lady and her young daughter. At one point the ape reached around back, grabbed some feces that he/she had just expelled, brought some up to her/his mouth and tasted it. The lady beside me said, "Ewwww", grabbed her daughter and walked away. I've always wondered if the gorilla didn't do it on purpose for a laugh.

People don't like reality, it's too complicated.

Egalitarianism don't show its face round these here parts. I've been looking out for it for a long while. Politicians try to fake it, but it's rarer than The White Rhino and is even more endangered

What's ensured photography's survival to date, is respect for and attention to that old chestnut "The Thing Itself". It's not that radical but it's the tougher road.

"A choice that has no mercy, but is surely redemption."


What is the difference between a wild and a tame wolf?


Great post. Have you read The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz? He makes a lot of interesting points about the pressure to maximize our decisions -- i.e., buy the best stereo, go to the top rated college, find the perfect shot of that landscape. It's especially interesting in the context of the search for the perfect digital camera, something I'm sure most of the people on this site can relate to.

I hadn't thought about his ideas in the context of Plato and the cave, but there are some interesting parallels. Perhaps we try too hard to make perfect choices because we always have the idealized archetype in the back of our minds. And we often regret our decisions because the reality rarely lives up to the imagined ideal. "THis camera is great...if only it had a better EVF." "I'm happy with this portrait, but if I'd taken a few more shots I might have gotten a slightly better expression."

"All scenes, whether actual or created depict authenticated facts" Remember "Wild Kingdom" which was about as staged as it comes?

The fact that staged shots with semi-tame or tame animals are common is not a surprise. A lot of folks have/prefer a Disneyland view of nature. Such shots should be labeled, but I wonder how much difference it would make to the average person.

So most photographers struggle to subvert the inherently subversive nature of photography? Gack, I think I might actually agree.

There will always be those who are willing to bend, or move outside, ethical boundaries, those who will manipulate, lie, and deceive. And there will always be those who won't, those who will hold to a standard of truth-telling, or whatever you'd like to call it. I liked the rock climbing example above. And I liked John Camp's discussion of the ethics of journalism. In the end, with a diversity of individuals, there needs to be some kind of method by which the group ensures that its members remain honest. Photojournalism may have had that in the past, and may have now lost some of it. It is up to the community of wildlife photographers, and to those who consume those photographs, to keep its practitioners and cheerleaders (the media that promotes it) honest. Because there will always be those who will be tempted to cross the line, enforcement is necessary, whatever the source. That, however, is an argument for another time.

The same holds true in many other realms. But that is yet another discussion.

Yep, I'm in favour of knowing what's been manipulated or not.

Coming at it from a humanitarian angle, a facebook page for the MSF recently had a photo ostensibly of a third-world scene, yet so obviously photoshopped[0] as to really put me off the idea of giving them any money.

It's good to know how few people get to see or photograph even ostensibly "common" animals, such as bears etc; I have a regular 70-300mm VR zoom lens and live in a forest and have never yet had a chance to photograph either of the two raptor species of bird I occasionally see. Maybe I'm not so deficient after all.

[0] toned appearance, selective blur in non-obvious places, darkened sky intersecting the scene wrong, you name it.

Wow, truth in photography! I think I'm with Winogrand on this one 'When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts'. And our postmodern ethic has twisted it even more in the sense one of the 'truths' about a photograph has been subverted, ie that what was snapped was there, whatever the edges indicate.

Very telling post.

I participated in the Coastal Bend Wildlife Photo Contest last summer and won $1,600 that was split between the photographer (me) and the landowner ($800 each). The goal of the contest (link: http://www.wildlifephotocontest.com/)"is to raise public awareness about wildlife and habitat conservation in the Coastal Bend of Texas." This contest combined with Texas property laws has been successful in creating awareness that all wildlife need a place to be wild and that a partnership between landowners and tourists/photographers is only natural.
I have my own rules for wildlife photography including my golden rule: to absolutely NEVER touch or put pressure on my subjects. But the contest rules allowed photographers to "carefully restrain" certain creatures as long as there was no potential for injury. Fine, I knew the rules but that is not the way I photograph wildlife. But when the book of winning photographs is published, no where is it mentioned that "some of these creatures were restrained and placed in "non-wild" situations to make the photographs more appealing. While the cause and mission of this outstanding organization is certainly worthwhile, this practice does cast a bit of an illegitimate shadow on the effort.

Joel Sartore is an amazing photographer, with a huge body of stunning work for National Geographic. His book on photographing one's own family is a treasure; it has a warmth and affection that elevate it above the sea of mediocre how-to titles.

However, I'm not so enamored of "Rare". The idea of photographing wild animals in a studio as if they were fashion models has already been just about done to death. James Balog's Survivors (1990) was the first I'm aware of, and Balog did multiple follow-on books. There've been many imitations since; Andrew Zuckerman's Creature (2007) is in the same vein. Jill Greenberg's heavily Photoshop'd monkey and bear portraits are probably the most egregious examples; they simply make my skin crawl. So it may just be me, but I don't think the world really needs more stylized studio portraits of vanishing 'charismatic megafauna'. The real issue isn't how pretty the photographer can make these animals, but how their habitat is being obliterated at a rate of many square miles per day. Soon such clinical 'zoo pictures' will be the only type of new wildlife images possible.

Sorry Mike, I will stray... You have presented the first operational definition of Photography I have ever seen, as opposed to the production of visual documents. Your description of Plato's cave is an incredible insight on the purpose of the medium as a whole.

The increasing frequency of misrepresentation in "wildlife photography" is symptomatic of both the disappeance of untouched and unmanaged land around us, AND of our innate need to see an environment made of fractals rather than the straight edges of our own architecture. Landscape and anthropological photography suffer from the same problem, becoming fake and staged. To me, contemporary "wildlife photography" would be to see life from the point of view of our neighbourhood skunk. Forget the big mammals, we are the only post-glacial giant left.

Remember the movies shown before death to the "volunteers" in the film "Soylent Green"? Well, we need some contact with a natural environment more than we may admit. Nature Photography, however fake, tries to provide it.

If you start a style (like italics or bold), please don't neglect to end it. Otherwise it spills over to the remainder of the page.

Mike, the only egalitarianism that has ever been a major part of America is equality of opportunity, not outcome.(the opposite is more true of France ;) ). Photography today however is even more egalitarian than ever before. There was a time not so long ago, and not so far, far away that having the means and equipment to make powerful significant photographs was by it's very nature limited to a relatively few well- heeled practitioners or news agencies. Today, (thanks to the profit motive and competition) we have a plethora of excellent, affordable equipment and capable photographers able to show all of us the truth of their worlds. As for wildlife photography, I don't have an issue with photographing animals that are captive as representing their free living counterparts, after all they aren't wearing makeup or being posed in unnatural positions etc. If however someone wants to show a fribee playing wolf or bicycling bear as wildlife the line will have been definitely crossed.

When I got back from Africa I spent a lot of time cloning out the ticks and flies from my lion pictures. Would I do it again?


But ticks, flies and mange aren't the biggest problem we face. Our biggest problem is: How do we ethically reduce or control the number of humans on this planet?

Yikes...after reading this one...I feel like I should confess the following:

This Shot was taken at a Wildlife Conservation Center near Anchorage. The eagle is even behind bars. I made the bars disappear with a large aperture. For a long time I just labeled the shot as a photo of a bald eagle "in Alaska." It wasn't a lie...but it wasn't the whole truth either.

After this post, I felt it was only right to declare to the world what I did.

Thanks, Mike.


"The Online Philosopher".

If you signed up for organ donation, may I have your brain? I'm considering a transplant.


" If you signed up for organ donation, may I have your brain?"


You wouldn't want it. It's not as attractive from the inside.


On the topic of "representing the ideal" versus "photographic documentation" it's interesting to note that the current ongoing adventures of the world's most famous spandex-clad photojournalist -- Spider-Man -- involve an incident where Peter Parker fakes an image to portray what actually happened in an encounter between J. Jonah Jameson and the super-villain Vulture.


In the comics, Jameson is currently mayor of New York and Peter is on his staff. He fires Peter and adds that he advises any honest news organization to stay well away from him.

"Trouble is, photography is all about the shadows, in the Platonic sense. Photographs are instantly, effortlessly specific. People spend an inordinate amount of effort and time in the cunning application of trickery to make them less so. But what photographs want to do is show the individual thing in all its quirky, specific individuality."

One of the arts of photography lies in the celebration and illumination of the Platonic shadows. Another lies in searching the Platonic shadows for the archetype via cunning applications of photographic technology.

Don't confuse which of these you are pursuing. I do it all the time which gets in the way of achieving a consistent vision. Oh well, out into the shadows, camera in hand.


Say...isn't Plato's cave more or less a camera obscura?

Plato himself would grant that art--aesthetics--is an aspiration towards an ideal of "beauty." Seems to me the very best art tells the unvarnished truth while still managing to punch the beauty button somehow.

Can we help people to see and long for the beauty of that ideal deer in that specific, flea-bitten example? Can we urge people to save the wildness of the world by showing the awful truth of it's dying? I hope we have artists among us good enough to succeed.

robert e seems to have beaten me to it, but I have been in a few school darkrooms where the door into the darkroom had a sign that read "Camera Obscura" and on the inside had a sign that read "Plato's Cave".

"may I have your brain?"

Are you sure you want his brain? It's used, you know.

"There was a time not so long ago, and not so far, far away that having the means and equipment to make powerful significant photographs was by it's very nature limited to a relatively few well- heeled practitioners or news agencies."

I don't think this accurately describes the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, or 00s. I haven't read about before the 30s enough to have an opinion.

Especially up through the 60s, the equipment used by the top professional photojournalists was mostly quite basic, accessible to anybody in the middle class economically. The exotic equipment proliferated and got more expensive after that -- but the vast majority of the major news photos were still taken with pretty ordinary equipment, which was still accessible to anybody in the middle class and up.

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