There are certain topics that can send me into a rant. Like nationalism or the Dutch school system. Things that oppose values I hold deeply. One of these popped up recently: the current trend of dishonesty in bird and wildlife photography.
Once again, there have been disclosures about game farms – this time in Minnesota – where photographers can pay to photograph captive wolves, bears, etc. and pretend they took the photos in the wild. The photographers share their photos on the Internet and people oooh and aaah over them, and that makes the photographers happy.
There is, however, a fundamental dishonesty about this. There are also honest, ethical photographers who spend days staking out in the wild to come home with their spectacular wildlife shots. Social media rarely makes a distinction between the two types of photos; in the end result, it’s not often visible.
And, though photos of captive animals are forbidden in wildlife photography contests, one winner of Wildlife Photographer of the Year was caught passing off a photo of a captive animal as wild.
There’s a bit of a sliding scale involved here. I took photos of birds at a raptor center, flying without jesses, so it looked very authentic. I did not pass them off as photos I’d taken in the wild; I was honest about how I came by them. But not everyone reads the fine print. And I suspect there are photographers who neglect to say where they took their beautiful raptor portraits. And how many photographers volunteer the information that the perfect shot of a bird drinking from a reflecting pool at eye level was actually taken in the semi-controlled conditions of a bird photography hut?
Baiting and calling birds and wildlife to bring them closer for a photo is common practice. Sometimes it takes ugly forms, like putting out live mice to attract owls. Often the forms are more innocuous. But, as we learned from the sad case of the foxes in the dunes west of Amsterdam, feeding animals drastically changes their behavior, domesticating them to the point that they become pests instead of wild animals.
It comes down to the concept that man considers all living creatures to be subject to his domination and whims. Which is a very different attitude than feeling at one with nature, being a part of all that lives. But it seems to be the prevailing attitude in most (and not just Western) cultures.
So this is turning into a rant because ethical behavior is something I feel passionate about. However, there is another concept – or attitude – that’s important to our place in the scheme of life on earth: tolerance, patience, and mildness.
The word that seems to sum this up is forbearance. A term often associated with Puritan ethics. But most Western people can use a dose of humility and forbearance. I believe the world would be a more peaceful place if we all were able to view things we don’t understand or disapprove of with forbearance. For me, one of the most difficult attitudes to achieve, especially when it comes to values I hold dear.
So, where is the truth in this? Must I hold my tongue when people behave in an unethical manner? I think there’s a fine distinction between criticizing others and standing for my beliefs. As a friend said, “We cannot evade it, we can only hold to our own voices and character and hope to enlighten and educate others.”