A License to Explore

"The camera is a license to explore" is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite photographers, Jerry Uelsmann.

I like being behind the lens, and viewing the world in small chunks. I find that Uelsmann is right. A camera does give us the perfect excuse to explore. The camera can act as a tool to help me explore and approach people or breech difficult subjects, and I often find that people are happy to comment on my camera and it makes easy work to start conversation. "So you're a photographer!" "You like taking pictures?" "Wow, that's a lens and a half!"

But a camera can also be a barrier, or something to hide behind. I do not normally run into problems when I photograph, but then, I try to take a very non-invasive approach compared to some of my "photo manic" peers. We've all met that person who annoyingly always has their camera in someone's face. And while that can make for profound photography, it is obviously the dark side of Uelsmann's photo positive thought.

Last week, my husband treated me to a day at the West Midland's Safari Park. I enjoyed our visit so much. It's a chance to see things I do not normally see, and learn about some of the amazing animals in our world. I like it for the same reasons that I like taking photos, I have an excuse to explore, and see, and learn, but there is also a barrier separating me from the proverbial (and in this case literal) lion.

I'm not unaware of the negative aspects of zoos, safari parks, and animals in captivity. How could I be? The media is quick to jump on to hot stories of morbid accidents at zoos and events which will light the flames of fury for animal rights activists on Facebook and other social media. But as we were herded along in our little VW Golf with all the other dysfunctional metal animals crammed between the gates of the enclosures, I still couldn't help but enjoy seeing such amazing animals and the many children excited at seeing such wondrous creatures.

I was also not beyond feeling guilty, and worried, about the well being of the animals in the Safari Park. Nor were the many juxtapositions between humans and animals lost on me. But, as with many other matters in life, photography has helped me to slow down and view this experience with a more critical eye; regarding the complexity of this reality.

In this way, I feel that the camera really is a license to explore. An image removes us from a situation, for good or ill, and allows us to interpret, to feel, and to discuss. I leave you with the parting question: Have you learned anything about gorillas recently?

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