This week I read two articles that really made me stop and think not only about the looming climate crisis but my photography and what purpose it serves.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, as Bob Dylan once sang “The Times Are A Changin’”. The first article I’ll reference was by the celebrated Australian author Richard Flanagan and he speaks of the joy he receives from observing birds around his home on Brunny Island in Tasmania. He also expresses the sorrow that the birds bring because of their diminishing numbers. For one reason or another bird populations are declining rapidly and it’s not just in Tasmania, it is a global phenomena. In Perth, the capital of the state in which I live, the Swan Estuary is a highly important nesting and breeding site for migratory birds such as plovers, sandpipers, knots, stints, and curlews that travel from Siberia and North Asia. In the 1980’s it was estimated that 36 species and more than two million birds came to Australia each summer. The number of migrating waders on the Swan Estuary was around the ten thousand mark, but, by 2000 there were fewer than five hundred. The causes for this alarming decline are many and include feral foxes and cats preying on the birds, domestic dogs being walked through nesting sites, prawning parties , people digging on the mudflats for fishing bait. Here in York we had a sizeable colony of Rainbow Bee Eaters that migrate here from New Guinea and the tropical north of Australia to avoid the wet season there. They dig their burrows in banks above the Avon River and breed. Last summer the Shire of York Council put in gravel roads along the riverside to allow access for emergency vehicles. In the process of doing that they bulldozed the nesting sites killing the adults and the young they were rearing and then permanently destroyed the site by covering the area with rocks to make a retaining wall. It wasn’t malicious, it was pure ignorance as the council has no environmental protection policy and had not done any form of survey into the wildlife along the river. They were very apologetic when informed but the damage has been done. There should be a thriving colony of Rainbow Bee Eaters digging burrows and and rearing young at this time of year – I’ve just seen one solitary bird.
The second article was also about Australia’s declining bird population and it talked about the phenomena of ‘extinction of experience’ which is a phrase first coined by Robert M Pyle. Extinction experience has negative implications for people’s health and well being. The article referenced a research paper that basically says that if people are having less and less opportunities to interact with nature that will create an antipathy towards the natural world and consequently they will cease to care about it. So to get people to be more aware of environmental issues they must be encouraged to reconnect with nature. One of the reasons why I wrote my walking guide, and I articulate this in the introduction, is that I hope that the people who use it will develop a love for and an understanding of the environment.
So what’s all this got to do with photography? Simple really. One of the main ways that I interact with the environment is through photography. It doesn’t matter whether it is close ups of plants, photos of birds or other wild animals or landscapes. It all equates to being out in the environment and experiencing it in a first hand way. Bushwalking, cycling, dog walking all do this as well and I feel so much better for it.
I started this post referencing Bob Dylan and I’d like to end with Cat Stevens or Yusuf Islam as he is now known. In his hit song “Morning Has Broken” the lyricist Eleanor Farjeon talks of the joy of walking through the Sussex village of Alfriston on a fresh morning. She talks of the joys of seeing the dawn, hearing blackbirds singing and experiencing the dew on the grass. Yesterday as I walked the dog along the river we were greeted by a territorial goshawk sitting on the branch of a dead tree. As we passed it swooped us while making plaintive calls. It was a totally sublime experience. Go out. Take pictures, walk, cycle, play. Enjoy the environment and revel in its beauty.