If you need some guidance and new perspectives on returning to the outdoors, here is the guide for you: a book by photographer Niall Benvie that looks at the past to better understand the future.
The title of this article may be misleading, but it was, to a certain extent, done on purpose, as the discussion about having a Covid-19 vaccine passport rages around the world. The passport here, though, is different; it is the one you receive through reading the most recent eBook from Niall Benvie, a “creative” – his own words – whose constant career companions have been two: camera and pen. This eBook may change your trajectory in photography and do it for the better.
As the world slowly finds its path to a sense of normalcy post-Covid 19, it’s only natural that photographers who for a variety of reasons have been confined to their homes prepare to return to the outdoors. Some may even ask, after having left their cameras on the shelf for a long period, if there’s something they want to do differently on this return to a more regular practice of photography.
Paving the way for a renewed return to nature photography, Niall Benvie’s recent eBook is the guide I would suggest ProVideo Coalition readers. I’ve been slowly going through the 147 pages (or is it spreads?), 27 000 words and 92 images of this eBook since I received it, last February, and I am not yet finished. This is not a technical book from a photographer sharing the tricks of the trade – as so many readers hope to find… and will, in so many other books and eBooks – but a concise series of essays that, as Niall Benvie says “I write so that I don’t forget what the camera doesn’t record. But mainly I write to help me make sense of the things it does”.
A platform for a new beginning
This collection of 22 essays is drawn from 20 years of work published in a variety of magazines including Outdoor Photography, The John Muir Trust Journal, BBC Wildlife and on OpenDemocracy.net. Niall Benvie writes, on opening the eBook, that “Some provide a reference point of how things were at the time to compare with how things have turned out. Others try to offer insight and in doing so, set themselves up for recurring critical review, a process I’ve put them through before presenting them, in good faith, to you here.”
A highly readable, informative and thought-provoking illustrated collection of published essays, “ON NATURE AND PHOTOGRAPHY, selected published essays 2000 – 2020”, is not the type of book you read and forget. You’ll probably want to go through one of the essays, a 20-minute read, and pause, giving you time to absorb the content. I find that in many cases I will return and reread many of them, as the concepts Benvie tries to share get better defined in my head.
From the business of game farms to the growth of “fantasy photography” or the tendency to create infinite travel tours to the same popular destinations, as if there was nothing else to photograph in the world, to the urgent need to find news ways to work and present photographs, Niall Benvie covers a variety of issues that may interest any photographer trying to find a new path – away from the crowds, I would add. That’s where this eBook may serve as a “passport” or platform for a new beginning, when photographers go back into the wild.
Do we need more pictures of elephants?
The wild… may just start in your backyard if you follow Niall Benvie’s suggestion. That’s a subject that has been important for the author and part of that is clearly shown through the organization Meet your Neighbours, which Niall Benvie co-founded with photographer Clay Bolt, a worldwide project that helped fuel my own belief that photography starts on one’s doorstep, something I’ve tried to share – sometimes not successfully – through my workshops.
In his new eBook Niall Benvie writes “And by turning our back on the celebrity locations and species – do we really need any more pictures of elephants? – we can find a way out of the homogeneity that bedevils so much contemporary nature photography.” The photographer adds: “So far I have argued for a broadening of our photographic coverage, not of wilderness but of wildness, that we eschew celebrity animals and places and engage instead with our own natural communities.”
Niall Benvie’s work reflects that search, and his word and photographs mix to share messages that have not just beauty, but context, something that is missing from much of the photography being shared in social media, as photographer after photographer returns to the same exact place to create the same exact image, to the point where the marks from tripod feet are already clearly seen on the ground… making it easy to clone a “popular” scene.
New ways to present photographs
You just have to look at some of the work produced by Niall Benvie to understand that the photographer as never stopped trying to find new ways to present photographs, concepts, ideas, mixing words and images where needed, to offer viewers photos with context that go beyond just the pretty pictures you’ll find many other places. That’s something I have mentioned before, when reviewing Niall Benvie’s Retrospective: Thirty Years of Photography, about which I wrote, “is not your ordinary photography eBook; it reveals Niall’s evolution as a photographer and human being, and how his vision of the world translated into a body of work that goes beyond the photographs.”
ON NATURE AND PHOTOGRAPHY, selected published essays 2000 – 2020 is a companion volume to Retrospective, which was more about photographs and less about text. This new eBook showcases Niall’s wide-ranging writing that ushers the reader into a fascinating exploration of all facets of outdoor photography. From how we might critique images to finding your style, from being an effective communicator to creating a legacy – every one of the 22 fully-referenced essays will lead you to a more complete understanding of your art. The prose is clear, simple and the content substantial.
With 92 images (and over 170 links) this eBook is not only an absorbing read but also visually beautiful and will take you down many intriguing byways. In common with Niall Benvie’s other eBooks, this one can be enjoyed on a large screen – truly a “coffee-table” book for the digital age. With a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels, a PDF format suitable for all platforms, this truly is a passport to renew your photography post-Covid 19. The eBook costs £12, or some $16,50, and can be ordered from Niall Benvie’s Food and Photography Retreats website.