News & Views

Thursday 23rd March 2017

Ethical Photography

Deep down, I believe that the only way we can live in harmony with everything around us is through a hunter-gathering type existence. This is because this way of being is ultimately underpinned by a trust that nature will provide on a day-to-day basis and it doesn’t involve our fear-driven attempts to try to ensure food supplies for the future. Our populations are limited by what nature provides. Thus we live within the constraints of the system rather than trying to manipulate it for our own security, which as we are seeing only ends up having the opposite effect. History suggests that we seem to be incapable of developing a sustainable ‘civilization’ in which we curb our excesses. We clearly aren’t as clever as we think we are. However, clearly us all donning loin-cloths and going walkabout isn’t currently a viable option – there are far too many of us for one thing.

With regard to my photographic pursuits, the side of me that holds these beliefs struggles on many levels with what I’m doing. Through my use of high-tech camera and computer equipment, I am supporting energy-hungry and polluting mass industries. The necessary travel also has its downside, not only in terms of my carbon footprint. I try to justify it all as a necessary interim step with the lofty ambition of helping people to really empathize with and appreciate our animal neighbours and the beauty of the terrain around us, and thus to help motivate us to alter our ways. Good photographs, I tell myself, really do have a power to move people and to enable them to connect emotionally with subject matter that isn’t necessarily there in front of them. So, I see my role as helping to ignite this spark of feeling a deep and essential connection with other forms of life. I hope that this will drive us not so much to care for these other forms of life (as this just fuels a sense of superiority and feeds our desire for control) as to allow them space and resources to exist alongside us by seriously limiting our own excesses.

This clearly involves a belief that I have something special to offer in this field. Like many artists, I constantly struggle with self-doubt, however. I am constantly asking myself if I am really bringing that something extra to the table that justifies the excesses involved in bringing it there.
0209Orangutan133bwiv “Homeless”

Anyway, to cut a long story short, this sort of mental turmoil does at least lead me to try to keep things as simple as possible and to work as efficiently as possible and to avoid indulgent excesses. Thus (largely also because I can’t afford it!) my armory of equipment is actually pretty small for a professional photographer. I generally only go out on shoots or make trips when I am really up for it, have something definite in mind and am pretty confident there’s a good chance of getting the images I hope for. I also try to be pretty conscientious in my planning of trips, again in terms of maximizing the potential for good returns in relation to the damaging down-side of my actions. Thus I take care to plan my safari itineraries to avoid too much time and energy spent travelling between locations. I also try to ensure that I go at an appropriate time of year and to destinations that will improve my chances of getting the desired images. I try to use tour companies that have ethical principles and that support local projects. Then, of course, there are the flights. If going long-haul, I believe it’s important to go for a longer stay if possible to make the journey more worthwhile. Avoiding indirect routes is also probably appropriate and then, there is the option of off-setting some of your carbon emissions by one means or another.

There are also arguments, of course, for this type of travel and tourism having positive effects in terms of bringing foreign currency into deprived areas and funding the parks and conservation measures that depend on this input. I try to quash the other side of me that shouts out “But this isn’t the answer – it just fuels the systems and ways of thinking that created the problem!”

So, maybe it’s better for me to simply view my photography as a form of art therapy enabling me to vent and communicate some of the emotions and turmoil within related to such matters! and - for details on carbon emission off-setting.