These days wildlife photography is extremely popular with a great many professionals and amateurs taking advantage of a superb range of easy to use equipment – in fact there are few technically limited challenges left, now it's all down to the subject. And as a subject what could be greater, richer and a more enigmatic and widely appealing resource? Not even the nude! So why is it that as a genre wildlife photography is still in the artistic doldrums? Why is it that the fine art establishment ignores its very finest practitioners as ‘parochial hicks who chase animals’ whilst exhibiting and printing mediocre snaps of most other subjects? I cast a cursory eye over an exhibition in a gallery recently and was seriously insulted by the ineptitude, not technical but artistic ineptitude and yet if I, or better photographers than I, had asked to display their portfolios the curators would have tittered and blushed.
I believe it’s the legacy of its past, a past blighted by the embarrassing acclaim we bestowed upon those who merely captured their subject, irrespective of photographic, let alone artistic, quality. We all said ‘wow’ just because it was rare, shy, difficult, sharp or properly exposed, and frankly none of these matter an iota. What counts is that the subject has been uniquely interpreted and presented in an interesting or invigorating manner. That the photograph has communicated something to us, something personal, some idea we haven’t had or seen or dreamt of, not merely illustrated in full, sharp colour some subject we like the look of. As you can tell this predicament irks me and many others. I’ve long been an advocate of taking a hard line on the mundane replication of reality and banishing those imperfect photographs which we enjoy just because the animals doing something unusual. Dump it, ‘if its not art, don’t even save it’ was a maxim that I adhered to for years. My library is not extensive!
But I have become a little more tolerant. I don’t quite like wallpaper yet, but I’m happier to accept that not everything has to be perfect, or say something or be ‘high art’. Some things can just be nice, easy to live with, happy or curious. And they can be all these things and still be a very good photograph, maybe even a picture. But I still can’t imagine why anyone would bother to pick up a camera and load it if they didn’t at least start with the intention of taking a good photograph – unless it’s a photograph of your aunt at her fiftieth birthday party where a snap will do, simply because its only possible interest will be – your aunt, fifty and birthday. So it's on this account that I implore you to aim high. You have a pair of eyes connected to a mind that has never been before nor ever will be again and everyone is capable of taking a great picture or two. Don’t be lazy, look at a few fundamentals such as colour, texture, balance, composition, as well as photographic technique and integrate them into your ideas and photographs. Aim to take shots that you might want to hang on your wall, or better still that others may wish to hang on theirs, not that might fascinate your aunt for three point eight seconds when you next see her, on her fifty-first birthday. Be hard on your results; in fact be ruthless, draconian, even evil. Prune and cut and discard until you’re on the brink of having nothing left and then ask yourself how your picture could be better. Lastly if you ever take a picture that you think is perfect – throw all your equipment into the sea and give up. Actually don’t, mail it to me because I haven’t got there yet and hopefully never will. Perfection is personally unobtainable, reality is invariably horrible so achieving any satisfaction should take all of eternity. Buy lots of film!