Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Do photographs help us or hinder us?

Do we spend a disproportionate amount of time taking pictures of wildlife rather than observing and appreciating what is before us in all its glorious reality? I think that quite a few of us are guilty of such actions.

A camera can be a lazy man's tool. We snap away at a plant, moth or butterfly which will then be appreciated and consumed at a later time. Something that I constantly find myself doing is, when confronted with a 'prize', panic until I have the pictures in the camera, by which time the moth, butterfly or beetle has most probably flown or scuttled away. Plants are not so problematical, but if the first reaction upon seeing them is to reach for the camera, then our mind is not really attached to the personal moment of initial contact. We have lost something. Can I be accused of using wildlife as a commodity to consume, catalogue and forget, to then move on to the next thing in line.

Admittedly, the picture can be used as proof of our having seen what we are claiming, or a crucial aid in being able to identify a tricky species. They do have uses beyond a 'capture' to own what we have found.

I'm aware of looking through my fairly extensive photographic library of plants (I've taken 600+ species) and realise that, in some cases, my recollection of having seen the plant boils down purely to the images that I have taken, and no more. I can recall where and when, but not necessarily how. In contrast, species that I have seen but not yet photographed almost without exception play vivid filmic memories of my encounters with them.

It's a bit like a family Christmas gathering. If you've got a handful of photographs from thirty years ago of such an event, it is these that your mind will refer to, and these inform and colour our memory. If you have no pictures from the same gathering does not mean that you will lack memories of it, but have a more honest and detailed recollection of the time. Could we be doing ourselves a disservice by constantly trying to take images of what we see and where we go?

Spotted Rock-rose on Jersey. Can I really remember seeing it?

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