Through my third eye
By Rathan Sudheer
Throughout history, photography has been known to influence world opinions and instigate change. Photographs have had the power to invoke emotions and change the way people feel about any particular situation. At this point, I would like to introduce what I call the “Third Eye” of a photographer. In wildlife photography, the lens and camera of a photographer form the third set of eyes through which people from all over the world experience nature. Photographers are the medium through which nature and wild is interpreted to the modern masses. The “wild” is generally portrayed as something dangerous, exciting and adventurous albeit pretentiously. Images are always shot to be beautiful yet distant.
Anyone entering into photography comes with a certain prejudice informed by photos taken by earlier photographers. As I entered into the world of photography, nature became my subject. However, it soon dawned on me that I had within me a form of bias, something that I found exists in a majority of wildlife photographers. This bias formed the basis of my third eye.
For example, consider the following two images that I took:
Which of these two images do you think would likely be the cover of a wildlife magazine? Many of us would be fascinated by the majestic eagle soaring over the setting moon while completely disregarding the common house crow. If asked, I would have sent the copy of the “Soar” to National Geographic or Animal Planet without hesitation. Why is it that people prefer to see an eagle over a common house crow? Is it just because crows are “common”? In fact, the house crow is increasingly becoming uncommon and are reducing in large numbers. House sparrows have already disappeared from the urban landscape. These animals are preferred less because they are far from the idea of “wild” and “nature” that we relate to. They are more commonly found in urban areas which is not the idea of “wild” that we know of and understand. This perception of “the wild” is largely informed by images and visuals taken by photographers. These frames, when imposed on viewers, create a sense of hierarchy among animals. My third eye restricts myself from taking good images of crows or sparrows. As a budding photographer, I’m informed by the photographs taken by other experienced photographers. I realized that photographs of crows are not marketable and shooting eagles flying in the sky earns recognition. Moreover, eagles are portrayed as creatures that are more majestic and beautiful than a crow. Sparrows or house crows make it to the cover of a nature magazine only when they become extinct.
Marketing for ecotourism paints a false image of nature creating expectations among people. For example, we photographers are encouraged to make images that are full of movement, action and dynamism (Ivakhiv, 2008). Photos are made to invoke a sense of adventure and excitement in people. Consider these photos of the same bird that I shot:
Images like first one, where the eagle is in action, is the one that is generally sold and marketed. It creates an illusion of nature among viewers who expect the same when they take a wildlife safari or visit a national park. But what they generally see are birds sitting on a branch like the second image. The same feeling of the photograph is almost never replicated creating a sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction.
People are shown and informed what the third eye of the photographer believes are marketable. However, this may not be the case all the time. There could be genuinely good pictures of underappreciated animals and birds like crow and sparrow. However, the third eye, by virtue of being a medium or translator, ensures the existence of a distance between people and nature. It is biased to what society has seen before and what it wants to see.
While this bias generated may seem harmless to photographers and people, what goes unrealized is that policies and actions created to safeguard the wildlife and ecosystem are also informed by the same bias. This is the primary reason why there never was a mobilizing “Save the sparrow” movement. It took a while before people started acknowledging the absence of sparrows. As an upcoming photographer and a hopeful environmentalist, I plan to retrain my third eye to show people what has never been shown.
Note: All images posted in this blog belong to the author and are subject to copyright.
Ivakhiv, A., 2008. Green Film Criticism and Its Futures. Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, p. 28.