Endangered species

The Ethics of Nature Photography

Humanly created machines are great at capturing light and holding it tight for another day. It’s not so special, though. Everybody in the neighbourhood is into it. The juniper people, for instance …

Gingko Leaf and Juniper

Unlike the gingko, whose light ranchings days above these junipers are done until the spring, the junipers remain all saddled up outside the light corral but sleeping with their hats tipped over their eyes. They’ll start munching on light again when things warm up and the ginko will put out new leaves to join in the feast.

Even though light scarcely filters through the winter cloud these days, it’s still all here, a whole summer of it. Photosynthesis is one way to take photographs of light, but the seasons affect different light eaters differentlyHere’s a moving picture of light that can be viewed instantly…

Staghorn Sumac

All summer long, the sumacs have trickled away the energy of the sun and reconstituted it in elaborate photographs we call fruit clusters, which they hold up to the sky. Eat that, James Cameron.

Another way to capture light and store it is to make photographs, as I have done to present these moments to you. And what is a photograph but a way of mechanizing the touch of light photons to the human retina — a kind of photography, for sure, that is caught in memory and out of which humans construct a visible world, that they then walk through. Some of our brothers and sisters use the process more holistically. Instead of using the intersection of light and water to create thought worlds, as humans do, they represent it with their bodies.

Moss Photograph of the Sun

This isn’t digital photography, mind you, nor even film or daguerrotypes. It does, however, develop— very, very slowly. 

Such light photographs as the moss makes on the above rock can be viewed two ways: as the present moment, which follows the future-trending progress of time as the moss grows, or as a future photograph which is viewed, in the present, in a half-developed form. The latter idea fascinates me. If I were, for example, to destroy this moss photograph by overturning its rock host in the first world, the one of conventional time growing into the future, that would be that. Time would move on, undamaged, without it. If I were to do so (God forbid) in the second view of time, the one in which the photograph is not yet fully developed, I would be destroying the completeness of the earth and myself, and preventing the story from reaching its full depth. I would be locked as a biological stranger in an impoverished present.

Northern Flicker Late in the Day

The photo is a bit weird because I had to muck around with the exposure, as my little time-compressing, mechanical-brain camera machine was not calibrated to deal with so much sky so late in the day and originally turned the flicker black as coal. Unfortunately, as a result it caught only part of the light, and so left everything looking a bit like an ice cream bar advertisement that spent too many summers sitting in a corner store window.

In the image above, a flicker, a biological life form, is adapting well to an earth narrative that long ago sacrificed the future development of the Peace River to produce its own technology. The rivers’s future development as part of the chain of light developing on this planet has been altered by this intervention. What is done to the Earth is only neutral if the present is considered to be the real focus of time. That’s quite the human bias. In fact, to think like that, a human has to separate herself or himself from the world — powerful technology, for sure, but one that might not lead to the survival of biological earth.

High Density Apple Orchard Viewed from Above

Life as a machine.

And what is a machine? It is the human will, set above the will of the Earth. There’s no way we’re going to have a healthy environment unless these machines are set to work more closely with life’s development. Time had to be stopped to produce this image called an orchard. The expectation is that it will develop further within human social networks, when the light pictures it makes, apples, are eaten by humans. If such herding of time is going to have any ethical meaning, then the social networks need, ultimately, to develop within contact with the earth, the water, and the sun. Anything else is a fantasy.





2 replies »

  1. really like the imagination of life on earth as a photographic record of relationship to our green sun (who appears yellow after the sky filters out the blue)…

    matured deepened landscapes manifest in layers of texture and color alike to the work of skilled painters in building the body of a painting…

    with this kind of vision civilizations addictions to traumatized landscapes – a hall mark of historical agricultural ecologies – and the color languages indigenous to ecological health – are invited to reveal themselves through an artistic intuitive perspective…

    may our eyes be open


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