I recently watched two videos featuring some incredible time-lapse photography out in the wild of the Pacific Coast. The first, entitled “The Majesty of Oregon” instilled in me a tremendous desire to go look at all of the places featured in the video, especially since I was living in Oregon at the time. The second is a stunning trip through Yosemite National Park. Both videos are shot with extraordinarily high resolution digital video (I’m not a camera person so I can’t talk about the technicalities) and are so vivid in color and sharpness that the videos almost make the landscape look better than it would if you were actually there. Combine that with the peaceful/dramatic background music, the ability to see the scenery in a variety of lighting and weather, and the photographers’ access to special locations and vantage points far beyond the usual hiking paths, and it almost seems as though it’s easier to appreciate “the majesty of Oregon” from the convenience of your home computer than from the rugged terrain itself.
Hi-res digital nature photography can be found everywhere these days. We see it all over the internet, in conventional venues like National Geographic, and framed on walls or featured on coffee tables everywhere we go. These photos, meant to inspire respect for nature and a desire to preserve those beautiful spaces for ourselves and for future generations, have long served as a pseudo-educational tool for those of us who don’t have mountains and old-growth forests in our backyards. They show us the power and beauty of those spaces so that we are reminded of what is threatened by our continued expansion and destruction. For decades, National Geographic has been pleading with the world to recognize and stop the devastation we are wreaking on those precious nature spaces, and for the large part, we continue to turn a blind eye.
So I wonder, for the majority of the population, is nature photography an inspiration – to preserve, to explore, to visit and be a part of nature? – or is it a lead-in to disappointment? With large swaths of the most beautiful territories in the world either off-limits to visitors or very difficult to access unless you are a skilled wilderness explorer, the places that ordinary “civilians” get to see are often touristy, surrounded by gift shops and other people, cars, pets, and children, or are simply not as magnificent as those we see in the photos and videos online and in magazines. Our “nature” experiences are often decidedly less “natural” than those shown in the photos. Now, thanks to ever-improving technology, the videos and photos we see have the potential to be even more vivid, colorful, and expansive than the real, in-body experience. Perhaps we’re being inspired to sit at our computers and watch more nature videos and marvel at their breadth and beauty – in essence letting the photographers do the work for us – rather than to go out and explore and fight for the preservation of those spaces ourselves.
Boiled down to its essence, my question is: Why, despite the overwhelming accessibility of magnificent and inspirational nature photos that should, in theory, instill in us a desire to protect the wilderness around us, do we continue to destroy and/or turn a blind eye to the environmental devastation around us?