If you’ve heard me do a talk at one of the photo conventions, or seen one of my slide shows, I often say something like – “It’s a privilege to speak for the animals,” or “I realize every image I make could be the very last one ever made of my subject.”
No matter what you think of the politics behind the recent BP Oil Spill off the coast of Venice, LA, there is one very real casualty of this mess – wildlife – in particular the birds that inhabit the wildlife refuges this time of year – and in particular to the birds – the brown pelicans. The brown pelicans only recently made it off the endangered species list. They nearly became extinct just 50 years ago. Unfortunately, due to the fact that Louisiana is home to so many large rookeries, I fear that these birds are again in danger of disappearing from the planet.
I was so moved by the pelicans that I wrote about this in February – “I Watched A Pelican Soar Today,” was a post about letting go. I re-read that post about once a month to remind myself of how great that day was for me. I have to admit that as I saw the images from the oil spill, and found out how heavily damaged the pelican population will be, I found myself wanting to cry for these birds and remembering that special day in February.
After seeing images from the spill area, I quickly went to my library of images from last year’s shoot. The image at the top of this post is one of my favorites. The bird’s massive seven-foot wingspan is too great to fit in the frame. I loved the intensity of the bird’s eyes as he performed a flawless landing in the bay. I watched this bird fish, and play and soar that day. I had the honor of sharing his company and making his portrait. It’s possible that he’s one of the birds that has either already been impacted or will be by the BP oil spill. Perhaps he’s already gone. If that’s the case, this image of him will live on. I’ll see to that personally. Because the images we make matter.
No matter what you’re photographing today or this week – remember. The image you make may be the very last one anyone ever sees of your subject. Whether it’s a bird or a bridge or a building or a balding old man. Your photograph could be what the rest of humanity views as the one and only lasting memory of that subject. So with that in mind, remember how important photography is to all of us. For goodness sakes put some effort into that next image. Don’t cut corners. Don’t go half-way. Spend some time thinking about what you’re doing. Learn your gear and your craft. Execute as flawlessly as you can. And remember, it’s a privilege to speak for the birds – or whoever or whatever you’re photographing.