Shake a Tail Feather
I always enjoyed photographing birds, ravens most of all.
To be sure, Bird Photography is daunting. Raven feathers do incredible things with light: there is an iridescent quality to the blackness that can shift into the purples in the low-angle light of dawn. Photographing ravens in bright sun after a snowstorm is a challenge of contrast. The layers of raven feather textures are rarely visible to the naked eye; a deft photo reveals latticework of unexpected beauty.
I remember meeting Eliot Porter in my childhood. Porter was a strong conservationist and friend of the family whose artistic rise to prominence was based on his photos of birds in the 1940’s. When Kodachrome color film hit the market in 1935, he struggled to photograph birds in color, a task fraught with technical difficulties. Using his skills in chemical engineering, Porter persisted and in 1943 had the first exhibition of color photos in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It could be said that Porter is both the father of Bird Photography and Color Photography as Fine Art.
While today’s Bird Photography is perhaps less challenging than previously due to digital technology, it remains an endeavor that sparks passion.
I was not prepared for the intense competitive ethos I encountered in one Bird Photography Chatroom I blundered into online. Many of the images displayed were stunning. But most were similar and even repetitive. Indeed, as I followed the conversations in the chatroom I was informed precisely what should and should not be photographed. For example, the photographers of BIF’s (Birds in Flight) were directed to never photograph a bird on the wing from behind. Just not done.
The more I thought about that commandment the more peculiar it became, a moral precept I had been wholly unaware of. I determined to photograph BBIF’s (Birds’ Butts In Flight) and see if there was cutting-edge Art to be had. I believe there is; no backlash of indignation or scorn will stop me. In the world of Fine Art, sacrifices must be made.