The Case for Human and Fauna Images

The Case for Human and Fauna Images
(Dennis Plank) #1

Hi Everyone. As the new moderator for Human and Fauna, I thought I’d give a little background on why I asked for this job when it became open and why I think this forum is important.

While I have been only an occasional contributor to this forum over the years, when I saw the post from David asking for a Moderator, I jumped at the chance. Sometimes life gives you a nudge and the stars align.

In this case, the nudge was a four day photography trip to the Skagit Delta in north western Washington State. I was somewhat familiar with the area from volunteer work for The Nature Conservancy near the town of Stanwood when I lived north of Seattle, but I hadn’t been there since I moved to the south end of Puget Sound. I discovered that the entire area is reclaimed tide flats with the ocean held in place by dikes. The rivers were cleared of debris many, many years ago to make them “navigable” and are still mostly channelized. Most of the area is still kept in agriculture, though I did see a few suburban developments creeping in and there is even some industry in spots. My point is that this entire landscape is far from “natural” I doubt that there is a single feature that is “untouched by the hand of man”.

It occurred to me that this is really the new norm. Yes, there are places that are relatively free from human influence, particularly in North and South America, but most of them require considerable travel on the part of the majority of the human population, including nature photographers, to reach them. From all accounts, the African Savannah is so crowded with safari vehicles that it’s difficult to keep them out of the frame when you’re photographing (I haven’t been there yet, so that’s hearsay). Certainly there is almost nothing untouched by man in Europe, and everything east of the Mississippi and most to the west has been altered by human presence.

This is nothing new. I spend quite a bit of my time working on restoring remnant prairies in the area where I live. Yet these prairies, left to themselves, would have become solid forest thousands of years ago. Instead, when the native Americans moved in after the last glaciers receded, they kept burning the areas they found as prairies for food harvesting and hunting and this served to keep the Douglas Firs from encroaching. Thus I find myself, as a person who believes in conservation, working to restore a man made landscape.

To return to the Skagit, while I was there, I found myself photographing Short-eared Owls with roads, cars and people in the background, Tundra and Trumpeter Swans with houses, boats and oil refineries in the background or foraging in muddy farm fields, Rough-legged Hawks perched on chain link fences and man made posts with farm buildings in the background, and Bald Eagles everywhere perched on any farmyard tree or power pole crossbar they could find.

So I’ve found myself rebelling against the old adage that nature photography can’t include what we have created-there’s no avoiding it in most of the world. Most places when we photograph birds, wildlife or landscapes, we are photographing in a human altered environment. As long as we are creating something beautiful and/or meaningful with a critter as the focus of the image, it is welcome in the Human and Fauna forum. And maybe someday there will be no need for this category and we’ll acknowledge that nearly all “nature” photography takes place in a human altered environment.

Thanks, and I look forward to seeing lots of new people posting in this forum.



(Anil Rao) #2

It is great to have you as the moderator for this group Dennis. And, thanks for the writeup. I agree completely with the sentiments you have expressed here.

One thing that I never quite understood is why NPN is so restrictive when it comes to photographs of wildlife.


(Dennis Plank) #3

Thanks, Anil. It has loosened up a lot since I joined. We’ll see where it goes from here.


(Hank Pennington) #4

I agree with you completely Dennis.

I think a new norm and a new approach to it needs to be found. What better place than NPN, and who better than the fine folks here?

My added emphasis to “altered environment.” It doesn’t get much more altered than the Everglades, for example. Big Sugar, real estate developers and The Corps of Engineers have played so many games with water flow the place is a pale shadow of its former self. Do we continue to pretend it’s “unaltered” or do we confront it?


(Dennis Plank) #5

Thanks, Hank. I appreciate the comments. I was thinking of that area just this morning.


(Hank Pennington) #6

You bet Dennis. Sad to say there are a whole lot of places around the country such as we’ve already cited.


(Bonnie Lampley ) #7

Thank you, Dennis, for volunteering to moderate this group. I absolutely agree with you. I think it is the exception, rather than the norm, for the environments in which we photograph to be “untouched” by humans. Certainly, the fauna doesn’t care. There was a (somewhat) humorous event where I live (Redding, California) in this vein. CalTrans (the State transportation agency) was going to upgrade a major bridge over the Sacramento River, and there were a pair of bald eagles nesting nearby. CalTrans figured they would be too disturbed by the construction activity, so they tried to prod them to leave their nest, going so far as to put orange cones in the tree next to the nest! Didn’t work, and the eagles didn’t give a hoot (so to speak) about the construction. They continued to nest there for the duration. It was quite heartwarming, actually. And there are still eagles there, several years later.


(Dennis Plank) #8

Thanks, Bonnie.

The local power company put up five poles with nesting platforms for Osprey on a preserve next to us. It did get one pair to relocate from a power pole a few miles away, but a few years later another pair started to build on an active power pole within a few hundred yards of one of the empty platforms. You’re right. They don’t care.


(Mark Seaver) #9

Dennis, first of all, thank you for stepping forward to take on a moderator’s job. I’m sure you’ll find it rewarding. Second, I recently read a review of an “Ansel Adams” exhibit by a newspaper photo editor. It was clear that the iconic Adams images were paired with other images of the same places at similar times. These pairings showed how carefully Adams worked to remove the hand-of-man from so many of his classic images. I don’t know if it’s true, but the reviewer clearly felt that it was Adams’s work that started the no hand-of-man philosophy in “nature photography”. Because of your extensive work with the Nature Conservancy on prairies, I expect that you’re familiar with the knowledge that humans have been manipulating their environments since the beginning of civilization, with things like starting prairie fires to get renewed grass growth and attract ungulates, removing underbrush in forests, planting “exotic” species for food, etc. Thus, what we photographers like to call “true nature” also shows the hand-of-man, it’s just not as obvious as a road or power line, etc.


(Sandy Richards-Brown) #10

Just found this thread, so I’m quite late to the party.
I’m very pleased that you filled the open Moderator position, Dennis. Can’t think of a better candidate!
I Agree with all above sentiments. Another example of “they don’t care” is baylands Preserve in Paloalto. It’s immediately next to the local airport, and small to medium planes roar off every few minutes. I need earplugs when I’m there, but the birds don’t SEEM to care - however, there are lots of studies showing alterations in mating, breeding patterns, , hatched eggs, # of successfully-raised fledglings, and more if the birds are too impacted by noise (and other) human environmental polution.

Here are a couple, for those interested: