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| p.1 #5 · Petroglyph Thefts - Ethical Questions for Photographers |
Regardless of what people want to hear, I think we need to press this. It involves clarifying the ethical implications of our own behavior, and it also involves being somewhat direct about the behavior of others who do things that put these places at risk.
I posted somewhat extensively about this today, and many do agree with my position and with some or all of the specific points I made in my blog post. I think that is progress, and the more we spread the word, the more good this can accomplish.
On the other hand, in the replies in various venues I saw some that were not so helpful. They included:
- Lamenting what the vandals did, accompanied by strong denunciations of them as human beings. Well, yes. But we know that. And to stop at denouncing the destruction - as worthy of denunciation as it is - allows us to be distracted from thinking about what role we might play in all of this.
- Suggesting that it is selfish to "hide" information about "our own special places," when others deserve to know about them before they are destroyed. There are several things I might say about this argument, but I'll just share one thought about it here. While I could, indeed, allow more people to experience such places now by posting photographs and/or detail directions, I can more effectively ensure that they may still be around for future generations if I don't.
One other person who wrote elsewhere echoed ckcarr's point about letting others enjoy the thrill of discovery. This is a core point that goes well beyond the specific issue of petroglyphs or even the somewhat larger issue of protecting places in general - and goes to a core question for photographers and those who look for or share information in forums like this one and elsewhere. Many, and probably most, who do a lot of photography eventually learn that re-shooting the iconic photographs of others is not what it is all about. (Disclaimer: I am not against photographing icons in all cases. I photograph them myself at times.) The idea that the goal or even a major component goal of photography is to roughly duplicate the beautiful and impressive photographs that others have already made of beautiful and impressive places is an aesthetic dead-end. I know that is very hard for some to understand, but I can tell you that it is essentially accepted as a truth by many of the great photographers that readers of this forum may respect and even idolize.
Last week I spent a day in Yosemite Valley, a familiar place at the top of the iconic list, for sure. A friend and I were talking about the odd ways we started our photographic work on this day. In my case, while standing within site of two icons, El Capitan and Sentinel Rocks, I had begun by pointing my camera down at a small patch of the surface of the Merced River and after finishing that moved on to making close-up photographs of frost-rimmed autumn-colored oak leaves with bokeh-blur backgrounds. We were sort of making fun of ourselves in this regard, when my friend pointed out that a highly regarded landscape photographer who is associated with photographing in the area could well spend a month in that Valley producing beautiful photographs, few or none of which might include those recognizable features of the Valley, but all of which might reflect a deep discovery of aspects of the place that others might overlook.
The point is that, while recognizing that imitation is a useful phase of a photographer's development, and that we never wholly stop borrowing or adapting what we see in the work of others, those who get stuck in the rut of seeing bagging a great shot of Landmark A as their highest goal may be cheating themselves of the best that the medium of landscape photography can offer.
So, if protecting things isn't a sufficient argument for some discretion, perhaps the idea of encouraging more people to move toward a more advanced and rewarding photographic experience might be.
"Frost-Rimmed Oak Leaves, Autumn"