How to own a leopard

22 08 2010

Why do people take photographs?

I mean it. Do we know why we keep taking photographs? Everywhere we go, whatever the event or circumstance, someone will produce a camera, usually one of those tiny ones the size of a matchbox that shoots immensely high resolution images that can reproduce at hoarding sizes, and start clicking.

There is hardly any place left in the world where photography is inappropriate, except perhaps some far northern states of india where extremely photogenic tribeswomen walk around in brilliantly coloured saris – any photographer’s dream shot, especially those with visions of national geographic wallpaper floating before their eyes. These women however have stern and fixed ideas on the matter of having their picture taken by every passing tourist and you will be roundly cursed in hindi every time you point your camera at one of them.

I like this.

I like the fact that there is still a no go zone or two left in the world where cameras and photographers are not welcome. On a recent visit to a wildlife park I realized that there exists in many an amateur photographer’s mind, a sort of hierarchy of wildlife in which the leopard undoubtedly reigns supreme, closely followed by the elephant, crocodile and bear. All the other animals of the park come a poor third, while the birds hardly register at all, (unless you are one of those peculiar people who actually prefer birds to leopards and walk around with a bird book in hand trying to identify each one.) Birdwatching has its own set of rules and hierarchies, and some birds give you extra points when reported later over dinner, especially the rare or colorful ones.

So the creatures of the wild are now reduced to popular photographs with no value beyond show and tell. Observe the jeeps, vans and buses full of yelling sightseers that career over the dirt tracks of yala in pursuit of some poor animal who is then surrounded and photographed by twenty five people at once, all using high end cameras worth shitloads of money which couldn’t take a bad shot if you tried.

People take photographs to ‘capture’ a moment, a place, a face or action. These are then framed and kept as memories. Most pictures aren’t worth anything unless they are shared. This means that every picture is something we plan to show/share, even before we click. But what really happens is that you start to lose the reality of the moment, the place and the face. Everything is seen through the lens and our desire to possess the picture becomes greater than our pleasure in the subject.

The world around us is astounding. It keeps changing and no one can ever possess the smallest fraction of it. The next time you go to yala, leave your camera behind.



7 responses

22 08 2010

Excellent post…but personally I’d prefer the animals photographed in there natural surroundings by a few people (then the majority of us can google/sit through someone’s slide show) than stuffing them into zoos and wildlife parks for us all to gawk at.

22 08 2010

couldn’t agree more!

22 08 2010

great post. I was thinking the exact same thing the last time I went to yala. We saw so many leopards yet we were so intent on taking the perfect picture that there was just no time to appreciate the moment.

23 08 2010

Lol…a couple of things. If you have a high end camera and shoot on P or auto then you really aren’t a photographer, you are a snapshot taker. I’ve seen plenty of people take bad shots with a 40D and good shots with a little P&S. Genuine photography is not so much about gear as an understanding of exposure, focal lengths, aperture, shutter speed and the interactions of these technicalities.

Another thing is the hierarchy with the leopard being on top is well understandable to those who have visited Yala for the last 2-3 decades. The relatively easy sightings of leopards these days is a relatively new thing. We used to go for a year sometimes with whole days spent in the park for a sighting of a tail or just pugmarks on the tracks. I suppose if you are a Yala newbie (and it has become a bit of a colombo fashion these days) then you would take the sightings for granted. But like Wilpattu is now, Yala those days made you work for sightings. not to nitpick but the bear is usually on par with the leopard, especially close sightings.

Also somebody who really tries to understand the true nuances of photography doesn’t have their head glued to the camera. They take in the surroundings, what the animal is doing so that they can anticipate a moment where the animal locks their gaze with ours, crouches down for a sip of water or readies for flight. Again the pictures from the same scenario of someone who knows their art and technicalities and from a snapshot shooter on auto are worlds apart.

IMHO leaving your camera behind when going to Yala would be a pretty dumb thing to do. Instead try and understand what you are taking a picture off, look around you and see your compositional elements. Taking a good picture does need you to be in the moment and immensely aware of both your subject, your surroundings and your emotions as well (at the risk of sounding a bit hokey).

24 08 2010

Oh dear you seem to have missed the point. Your view is exactly what I am complaining about. I was trying to say that maybe it is ok to stop trying to photograph everything all the time.

23 08 2010

I like the idea presented here, as I perceive it, tha if you’re taking a picture you are missign the naturally present moment of experience. After all, when we gom to snap a picture, does are mind not move into the future of where and how this picture can serve us or please us?
I think there is something intimate and personally about experiencing a moment and then letting it remain where it belongs. Like your mind.

28 11 2010

Never mind the leopards: shutterbuggerers are a menace to everyone else around them who just want to stay quiet and enjoy the moment. See also:

Mind you, I feel just as sorry for the leopard.

And boy-toy talk of lenses and apertures is so yawnsome, don’t you find? I have collaborated for nearly 25 years with one of Sri Lanka’s leading photographers (on and off), and in all that time he has never uttered a word on the subject to me–unless I’ve asked–and has never, never, NEVER blocked my view or spoilt my day in order to get a shot.

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