On a visual level, I love this photograph, it has emotion and power. However over time as my own photography and guiding career grew. I found my self looking at this image with very different set of eye’s. This blog is about how this photograph “Zambezi Temper” has changed me as a guide and Photographer. Their are at lot of lesson here.
Today I look at this image and I feel ashamed, because of the circumstances on how this image was taken. Every day for a week there was a small herd of Elephant bulls that would cross this small channel close to our camp in the Lower Zambezi, always at the same spot. On this particular day I went and hid close to this position to photograph this event.
As the bulls approached the crossing point they became aware of me, but because they were already half way out of the water they proceeded very quickly. Now my arrogance at the time, made me handle the situation in a confrontational manner. I knew enough to know how to manipulate the situation that I was safe, however this reaction caused the remaining bull (in the photo) to change it course down stream. I realize now why they choose this spot specifically, the current was weak here. However further down stream it was channeled and to strong for even an elephant.
During this whole scene my wife was raising her concern about my actions, but because I am the guide and the one with more experience I know best. So I reassured her that all fine.
Now my actions of the day, was spurred on by the need to get a photograph and I did not think for a moment what my actions were going to cause. Thankfully no real harm was done. I learnt a valuable lesson from this and it has changed my approach completely. Dont change behavior of an animal just for a Photograph, every action has a reaction. The point is to photograph animals behaving naturally. Its very obvious tell if the photographer has influenced the animals behavior for in their photographs.
I have posted this photograph of me in “action” once before. All the comments were of people raising there concern about the situation and again because being the “experienced guide” I ignored all and put my point across that I know what I am doing was ok. Well it is not ok! If you post an image of your self with animals and people raise their concern, stop and look at the situation and ask why are the people concerned? Then change your behavior accordingly.
People raise their concerns because they care! Often It may just be that the situation in which the photograph was taken complete fine and ethically sound, just the image on its own portrays it as unethical (this is often the case on palaces like Mana Pools). The point is people look at a photograph at face value and they don’t know the context of the image, so either give them the context or don’t post that image.
I don’t think a lot of guides and photographers know how much they can influence a followers actions. If a person just coming into the industry see’s all these images of people and animals, they will assume that its ok to go position themselves self in-front of an advancing elephant herd. With out knowing the context, they will endanger both them selves and those elephants. Common sense is often not so common!
How I remind myself of this everyday …
Once I realized that I was ashamed of this image, I have been sitting on the fence for years now to remove this image completely from my portfolio. Because you can just look at this image and see the that I am in the photograph. 100% of this Bull elephant attention is on me, as the photographer. So I have interfered, look at your own images and see if you can see your self in the image?
Past experiences, like history, is what makes us grow and become a better people. So I have printed this image and its above my desk, every day I look at it and it reminds me that we are only spectators and not participants in these animals lives.