A walk up Snowdon.

Last Monday I climbed Snowdon. Not so remarkable, you might think, even on a grotty day like Monday when  hundreds of other people were probably doing the same thing. But for me it was a bit of breakthrough. My last real “mountain” climb had been almost four years ago when I attempted Snowdon but only got as far as Y Lliwedd before escaping back down to Nantgwynant. On the ascent I was so short of breath that I genuinely worried that I might be seriously ill, and for several days afterwards my legs were so painful I just couldn’t face it again. 

So what was so different about last Monday? I left my DSLR kit at base camp and took just a Panasonic GX1, two lenses, and a travel tripod. This is a brilliant combination for lightweight travel and seems to be capable of excellent results. Not that I got anything on this trip because the cloud was down at about 2500 feet and the promised clearance just didn’t happen. I’ve usually been good at choosing mountain days but got it wrong this time! 

Nevertheless the exercise and sense of achievement was rewarding, and there were a couple of other things that made the day memorable. Firstly, I was amazed by the number of parents taking their children up the mountain. Never in a million years would mine have done such a thing, or even considered it for themselves. They just didn’t do the outdoors. 

Secondly, I had sat in the summit cafe for a couple hours to see if the cloud would clear, but as I stood up to leave a man at the next table caught my eye, and said he recognised me. Did I live in Rhyl, or Kinmel Bay? Was I a church-goer? Had I been on Crimewatch? Errrr…… no …….wellll……   errrm…….. ! He just couldn’t place me. 

For my part nothing really rang a bell. I had done a little photography in Rhyl for “Wales At Waters Edge” and I spent a morning at the Art Gallery earlier  in the summer while the exhibition was showing there. But Rhyl is, to put it bluntly, a bit of a dump, and not my cup of tea at all. A vague memory came floating out of the ether. I had had a chat with a visitor to the exhibition and managed to persuade her to buy a copy of the book. Could he have been her companion? It was the only thing I could think of. 

I checked my emails later that day, and there was one via my website from Dave Cutting, who had been with his wife Ellen when she had bought a copy of the book that day at Rhyl! Funny old world……..

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More on Conservation Photography and 2020VISION

For the first part of this article please click here.

There is a Welsh term “Y Filltir Sgwar” (The Square Mile) which may either be taken literally or understood as the area with which one is familiar and concerned about. Some landscape/nature photographers clearly have a very modest “Filltir Sgwar” and are able to explore it with minimal environmental impact. I do admire them greatly. Others feel the need to see as many as possible of the spectacular locations the earth can offer and have to make – what shall we say – some compromises. Personally my own “Filltir Sgwar”- probably the whole of Wales –  is such that neither public transport (there’s very little) nor pedal power (it’s too large) will ever allow me to fully experience it. And such photography usually involves remote locations and anti-social working hours to the extent that neither are really practical anyway.

There are two other points I’d like to add. In the days of film it was more clear when one’s photographic activities were polluting the planet. Now many of us are on the digital upgrade treadmill instead in the search for even better image quality. Quite how the two scenarios compare environmentally would probably require a PhD thesis to understand.

The other relates specifically to 2020VISION and the claim Niall Benvie makes in the article that it allows the chosen photographers to “act locally”. Here I might be accused as suffering from sour grapes but in my defence I can say that I had completely forgotten about it until I saw the article.

There are two projects in Wales, both within about thirty miles of my home. Four photographers are involved, one of whom is nominally from Cardiff, but is better known for his globe-trotting. The other three are from distant parts of England. Nearly two years ago I met a member of staff from one project (Denmark Farm)  who asked me if I’d heard of 2020VISION. I said I had. Aren’t they going to use local photographers, she asked, to which I could only shrug my shoulders. You can sense my personal frustration but it is more than that. 2020VISION may be well-intentioned, and I’m sure the resulting book will be superb,  but it seems to fail, in my opinion, on this count and the others I have mentioned. The light coat of greenwash given to it by its organisers cannot disguise the fact that photographers are not going to save the planet.

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The problem of Conservation Photography

Wildlife photographers on Skomer island

In an article in Outdoor Photography (September 2012 issue) related to the 2020VISION project Niall Benvie makes his case for “conservation photography”. “By drawing attention to what happens in and to the natural world (rather than merely reflecting its aesthetics) conservation photography gives people the tools they need to to understand how their choices affect it.” he says. “But few, too few, to make any real difference, act on that knowledge.”

He describes some of the problems brought about by constant economic growth – among them biodiversity loss and ground water pollution. And – quite correctly – “The argument that industrial society and a vibrant natural environment are compatible just doesn’t stand close, ear-to-the-ground examination

The problem is that photography is itself a product and manifestation of the developed world which Benvie criticises in the article. A quick browse of the websites belonging to some of the 2020VISION photographers is quite informative. They illustrate just how far from sustainable nature photography often is in practice, no matter how admirable the intention. Air travel to exotic locations and the acquisition of the latest photographic gear are all prominent. Some of these guys’ carbon footprints, and let’s be honest, their financial footprints, must be off the scale. In some cases their sites contain promotions linked to equipment suppliers all designed to sell us even more “stuff”.

At the same time they make bold statements about their environmenetal credentials. One is “looking for a way to dedicate the rest of my career to the preservation of the wild. That is my mission.” I’m not criticising the sentiments, I just question whether as high profile photographers they are truly in positions to put them into practice.

The truth is that“conservation photography” is green only in the very shallowest of senses. It smacks, unfortunately, of “do as I say, not as I do”. Over many years of experience Benvie has eventually had to concede that “…….people don’t care about the earth. At least they don’t care about it if doing so impacts on their material life”. But photographers are not immune to such conflicts. Their high end photographic gear and travel-rich lifestyles are no less burdens on the planet than any other aspect of the Western society.

And it is not a new phenomenon at all. About twenty years ago I attended a symposium entitled “Green Photography”. There were very few attendees, in truth, and they split into two opposing groups. I was in the shallow green, ecological message camp. I believed it was a worthwhile way of proceeding. In the other camp were two photographers who travelled by train and bicycle to their locations. They complained that no-one had taken them seriously as photographers, even the greenest of green organisations, but in fact their actions actually spoke louder than our words.

Ansel Adams was, and still is, the best known and most effective conservation photographer of all time. He achieved a great deal of success in persuading American politicians to protect huge chunks of wilderness, and even has one named after him. But he took on all sorts of commercial clients to pay the bills, including mining, banking, and power corporations. He was aware of the paradox, but brushed it aside. He believed that such jobs were merely a means to an end, allowing him to continue his life’s work in the American wilderness.

In my own, more naïve days, I believed that if I tacked a conservation message onto my landscape images it would make a difference. Now I realise that in a rather modest, twenty year, career in photography I’m actually closer to being part of the problem than the solution. It is the unavoidable result of being a cog – even a very small one – in the capitalist machine.

In the 50 years and more since Adams was in his prime as a working photographer and conservationist, we have learned so much more about the environmental results of our activities. “Conservation photographers” seem to claim that their practice is somehow different or more worthy than other photographers. But in terms of their effect on the planet’s ecological balance, I see little basis for this belief in reality.

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Copyright Jeremy Moore (August 2012)

Canon 5d mk2 design problem

The Canon 5d mk2 is a great workhorse of a camera and is capable of stunning results. It is built like a tank as well; I have dropped mine three times and it is still coming up with the goods. But it has one design flaw – the mode dial is non-lockable. This may seem a minor problem but my experience yesterday was typical of what can happen.

I was driving along a minor road near Brecon quite early in the morning when I saw a photo-op. Quickly pulling over and grabbing the camera, I set it up with a 70-200 zoom on the tripod. During a short session of picture-taking I noticed that the mode dial had accidentally shifted to “P” (program) from its usual aperture priority. On processing the results I discovered that the P setting had given exposures of f5.0 or f5.6 at about 1/320 second – not required or desirable in the circumstances! Depth of field in the images at maximum telephoto is so poor that they are unusable. Fortunately I have a couple of post-discovery keepers like the one below that all was not lost.

I understand that Canon have put this right with the 5d mk 3 so I had better start saving!

Near Brecon
Near Brecon

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More on postcards (and copyright…….)

Nantgwynant, near Beddgelert
One of this summer’s new postcards – M260 (Nantgwynant, near Beddgelert)

I received the following unsolicited email a couple of days ago from a Mr Boyd Williams,

As a Welshman who spent over 10 years living and working for French companies in Paris, I discovered that Wales was quite unknown to most of the French so, with the aid of a ‘revolving gallery’ of your postcards …… displayed on my desk, I tried to sell Cymru Fach to the Parisians! After hearing endless ‘C’est magnifique!’ and ‘Oh – c’est beau, c’est ou ca?’ and other complimentary remarks as colleagues passed by my desk, I know for a fact that some of them have visited Wales! 
So,’Visit Wales’  – or whatever it is that the Welsh Government is calling their in-house version of the Wales Tourist Board nowadays – could really do with employing someone like you! Keep  snapping away, please!

My reply was as follows-

“Many thanks for your email. It arrived while I was on a rather gruelling trip around Pembrokeshire selling postcards so was very timely! It is very nice to know that one’s efforts are appreciated.

The truth is that I worked freelance for the Wales Tourist Board for a number of years but found that their attitude to photographers had become quite unacceptable. In particular they operated a “copyright grab” which meant that photographers had to sign over their copyright or they would not be employed. This manner of operation was adopted by the entire WAG when WTB were absorbed into it about ten years ago, despite the efforts of photographers to persuade them otherwise. I have not worked for them since on a matter of principle.

This has been a serious loss of potential income to me, but also a loss to the tourist industry in Wales, as you so kindly implied!”

As widely seen elsewhere in government thinking, WAG seems to believe that professional photography is one of the very few business sectors whose interests can be safely ignored.

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