30 April 2012

Tame or wild?

It's an old debate. What exactly is nature photography? Try googling that question; you'll get hundreds of attempts at definitions. As elected leader of Biofoto, a Norwegian Society for Nature Photography, I've been forced to think this over a lot of times, and to try to find a tenable position that accommodate all, or at least most of our members. Not easy.

One of the questions up for debate this spring has been whether photos of domesticated animals qualify as nature photography. Many of our members contend it does not. When asked why, they become uncertain but remain insistant. Pictures of domesticated animals are lumped with zoo photography as Animals In Captivity.

From this point of view, this picture is not nature photography.

Personally, I beg to differ. But I too become uncertain when trying to put my reasons into words, because there are so many lines of argumentation to follow. Most of them makes assumptions that could be subject to separate discussion, and can probably be picked apart to atoms. In the end I'm left with only one. I firmly believe that no nature photographer actually photograph nature. Rather, I hold that nature photographs are renderings of the photographer's relation to nature.

From this premise follows that all photos can be nature photos if they communicate this relation.

In the context of this particular image the sheep may look tame to a seasoned outdoorsman, and feral to an urban dweller. Likewise, the landscape may look wild or managed depending on who you are and where you come from.


Mark Roberts said...

If it's a photograph of a sheep with a beautiful landscape in the background it's *not* nature photography; if it's a photograph of a beautiful landscape that happens to have a sheep in the foreground then it *is* nature photography.

There! Problem solved!

Or not...

Linn said...

I do not have the answer on how to differentiate between what is "nature photography" and what isn't, but I think the criteria on domesticated shouldn't be restricted to animals. The Norwegian landscapes are to a large extent affected by human technical constructions, like roads, electricity lines etc. A continuously diminishing area is not affected by these constructions. Following this, it is increasingly more difficult to find "real wilderness" with animals or plants not affected by human activity in Norway, se http://www.dirnat.no/inon/. So, even if the wild moose, or bear, or wolf or whatever animal that is photographed, seems to be a wild animal, it is most probably in several ways affected by human activity.

Alunfoto said...

@Mark: Hehehe... Conversely, an image of an elephant that happened to be in a China store would be a nature photo, whilst a china store that happened to have an elephant inside would not. Assuming the elephant was not domesticated, of course.

Alunfoto said...

I agree that domestication should extend to more than animals. The cultural landscape is a very interesting example of what we think of as nature.

Considering human artefacts, I wonder if there's a difference in our mind between historic artefact like a stone fence, a turf-roofed weather-beaten farm house or a burial mound; and a modern artefact like the ones you mention.

It's an interesting discussion, I think.