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The Functions of a Photograph

Yesterday I went to one of the coolest little educational places I've ever encountered. It was the Festival Park Owl Sanctuary in Ebbw Vale. The sanctuary takes care of birds which are ill and also birds raised in captivity which are not permitted to be released into the wild. They provide educational activities and experiences for children and adults alike. Most exciting, is the chance to hold some sleepy owls.

For a photographer, it was a great place, something we would call a TRE, or Target Rich Environment, meaning quite simply, that there are lots of people and things to photograph, and not a lot of resistance because everyone is very busy. Most adults I saw were too busy watching their children or too enthralled with the birds to pay much attention to the photographers snapping away. It got me thinking about photographing children in different settings. In many instances, permission from a parent is required to photograph and publish images of children under the age of 18, and even then this kind of photography is often approached with caution in reaction to societal stigmas. Take for example photographers such as Sally Mann who photographed her own children, has faced much criticism and skepticism about the well-being of her children and the ethics behind her work. As a woman of 25 I think of my younger self, delighted with animals and wildlife, delighted with exploring the world in which we inhabit. I watch the little brunette girl in her flowered coat light up with that delight as the bird handler gingerly places a sleepy owl on her little, leather clad arm; she listens intently to what the older gentleman as to say. I instinctively click the shutter. Not a fraction of a second later I side step to the left leaving the perfect shot behind in favour of an imaged framed more from the side of the child. Her face is now hidden, the delight and thought expressed on her face barred from us, the viewers. This is a far inferior image. It's the one I will post on my blog. In hindsight, I could have easily turned to this girl's father whom was beside me snapping away on his camera phone. We could have exchanged emails. I could praise him on what a polite daughter he had, and coerce him to releasing model rights to me, not for any evil intention, but so I could put her picture online, or in my portfolio. What would have made this even easier is if I offered to use this photograph for advertising for the Sanctuary which is run by donations. This solution would be flattering, and work toward a good cause, while at the same time be a networking connection for me. This is beyond the point. It is amazing, how the function of a photograph can automatically change the perception of that photograph. So often we see images with no context. We are offered no explanation, or background story. We need to think critically about images and visual culture. We need to think critically about the type of world we want our children to inherit.

Below is a link to the Owl Sanctuary's website if you would like to plan a visit. Please remember they run on donnations!


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