My friend Guy Tal posted (as usual) another great read on his blog; “Photography and the Environment”. I urge you to read his treatise; it’s a solid piece. Guy has a great knack for writing on particular topics without seeming to offend those who disagree with him, which makes his a powerful voice. At the same time, he’s not wishy-washy. that’s a hard line to toe.
One question Guy asks in the article is “Will another photograph on a web site in a stock library truly change public opinion? How about another thousand? Another million?”
I’d suggest, however, that this is the wrong question to consider.Turn it around; what if there were to be no more nature photographs? What if nobody photographed another sunset, another bald eagle, glacier, forest grove or great bear? What if no writer touched pen to paper to draft the next essay on climate change, the next article about mountain top blasting, or open pit mining, or overgrazing? What if poets stayed their ink, and said no more? What if musicians ceased their social commentary, singers fell silent? Cinematographers made no more nature films?
How might THAT change public opinion? I’ll submit here that art DOES foster culture. The voices of writers, photographers, musicians, painters, dancers, film makers, etc, are worthwhile. The art we create moves people. Expression, both collective and individual, reinforces and shapes who we are, what we value, how we feel, how we think, move, talk, how we treat ourselves, each other; in essence, how we live.
What if the voice for concern were left only to those who have none? What kind of culture would arise from a world where the only representatives of the natural world were those interested in nothing more than extraction and coin? This is precisely the kind of world that made the John Muirs, the Henry Jacksons, etc, so desperately critical. Rivers caught on fire and the greatest herds of wildlife the planet has ever seen are no more. Even given the great work of those luminaries, we still produce undrinkable water and unbreathable air; the skies rain acid, the ice melts and the polar bear vanishes. It’s frightening to contemplate where we might be today if these giants of conservation, artists all, stepped away from the fray because they wondered if their work might make no difference.
No thanks; give me a world where “champions of the natural world” isn’t a phrase pertaining to competition and conquest, but a tribute to the voice of love and compassion.
Consider the work of great artists as part of a greater coterie; the voice of Bob Dylan, of Rachel Carson, Henry David Thoreau, Ansel Adams, Henry Jackson, Art Wolf, Wendell Berry do not arise from a vacuum. Those voices are certainly some of the loudest and most poignant; fine soloists indeed. But even Aretha Franklin sings with a choir. These legendary artists arise from a bed of creativity, a giant web, that includes, many, many other artists. It is this bed that generates great art and great artists, and it is this bed that might precipitate social change. The universe didn’t give us one Jimi Hendrix. The universe gives us hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of kids growing up playing guitar, making music, making art; and Jimi’s incredible performances are part of that, an outgrowth of that web.
Furthermore, artists don’t create single works. Artists make art, and maybe, sometimes, if we’re lucky, just one of those creations might generate public comment. Photographers shoot literally hundreds, thousands of images, in the vain, oft-concealed hope of possibly making one really great image. Cartier Bresson said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” So if your photo isn’t enough to truly nurture a change in public opinion, shoot another. And another. And yet another.
The last point I might make here is a more personal one. My photography might not, probably will not, ever, “truly change public opinion”. But my photographic pursuits have changed my opinion; the ways I see the world, the things I care about, the respect I feel for the world around me, have all grown in leaps and bounds through artistic engagement, and continue to do so. That alone makes the quest meaningful.