After the onslaught of the hottest summer ever, which I wrote about in the last post we’ve had a few days of respite with temperature dropping 15ºC to the more manageable mid twenties. All of a sudden it feels like my brain has kicked up a gear.
I went out to Lake Leschenaultia at sunrise to film a time lapse sequence for a video I’m working on. While there I decided to take a few pics of the birds I could see while I waited for the time lapse to finish. With the lower temperatures the birds were all a lot more active. When I visited last week a lot of the birds were just sleeping in the shade. The Eurasian Coots were putting on quite a show – preening, feeding, chasing each other. One of them was determined to explore the contents of my bag. The purple swamp hens weren’t very happy to see me on their bit of beach. One of them would walk backwards and forwards in front of me giving me the evil eye. The male musk duck I talked about in the last post came steaming out of the reeds. Man that is a fast duck. A few minutes later I was delighted when a female musk duck came out of the same reed bed with two ducklings in tow. That was a first for me.
Away from the shoreline and in the trees the passerine birds were very busy looking for food. The grey fantails are a lot like their cousins the willie wagtail in that they just don’t give a stuff about people. They will perch on small branches and give you a good look over. That doesn’t mean they are easy to photograph as they have very short attention spans and don’t sit still for long. They are, however, quite territorial and will often come back to the same perch over and over so that increases your chances of getting a photo. The Western Thornbills are much more erratic and it can be difficult just to get a good look at as they move through the low lying scrub and shrubs. After a while I became aware of a large number of gum nuts dropping from two of the trees in front of me. Looking up I saw half a dozen Red-tailed Black Cockatoos feeding in true parrot fashion. Take a bite out of a fruit, drop it and then get another one. Repeat until you have stripped the tree bare or have had enough, whichever comes first. One of them gave me quite a long look and not for the first time I got the sense that there was a real intelligence behind those little black eyes.
While at the lake amongst all this wonderful nature it wasn’t hard to feel intensely grateful to have this experience but also a little guilty. Over the course of the last couple of years it seems as if the world has gone to hell in a handcart what with the climate crisis, COVID and now the Russian invasion of the Ukraine with Putin threatening global nuclear annihilation. So what gives me the right to have all this serenity and beauty when elsewhere people are suffering and dying? This sort of thinking isn’t new. Henri Cartier-Bresson the Godfather of socially concerned documentary photographers said of the American fine art photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston:
“The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks!”
(quoted by Adams, Oral History, Univ. of Calif., Berkeley, p. 498)
For Bresson a documentary photograph should deliver the truth and be an agent of social change making life better for all humanity. He felt that Adams’ love of the beauty of nature was sentimental, naive and wasted. So was my being at Lake Leschenaultia taking pretty pictures just self indulgent sentimentalism? Perhaps I should be doing something more useful to try and solve the climate crisis and stop the war in the Ukraine. I could take the defence that Ansel Adams took when he made the address “The Role Of The Artist In Conservation” where he said:
“I believe the approach of the artist and the approach of the environmentalist are fairly close in that both are, to a rather impressive degree, concerned with the ‘affirmation of life’….Response to natural beauty is one of the foundations of the environmental movement.”
I can say that I do through my books and photos hope that people will become more interested in the environment and look to protect and conserve it. But I’m aware that what I do is very small. Adams had access to the presidents of the United Staes, millionaire philanthropists and captains of industry. So if I’m not influencing the opinions of the great and the good should I still be out taking pretty pictures?
The last week or so I’ve been reading ‘Journeys In The Wild – the secret life of a camera man’ by Gavin Thurston. Thurston is a film cameraman and director of photography who has worked on many of the BBC’s David Attenborough documentaries amongst other things. An interesting read about what really happens behind the scenes when those programs are made. Thurston admits that even taking into account all the difficulties and the missing out on family life he has been extremely privileged to have seen what he has seen. He recounts of how he was filming for the ‘Trial of Life’ series during the civil unrest in Panama. After a particularly dangerous drive out to the rainforest where they could have easily been killed by Panamanian Defence Force he’s out filming stingless bees when he realises:
“Nature and its beauty and complexity is an easy diversion from the rigours of human turmoil.”
I find that being in nature is a way to re-establish calm in my life. So I could sit at home and become fearful and anxious about what is happening in the world, but what does that achieve? Going out to spend time in the natural world and allowing myself to be totally immersed in that world brings about calmness, joy and an appreciation of life. It recalibrates my thinking. So as an act of self care spending a morning watching the sunrise at Lake Leschenaultia and enjoying the antics of the animals around me was very important.