Recently someone told me on social media that I should not be posting images from a beach that was newly opened to the public, nor calling it a particular name, because it was ‘secret’ to local photographers. So secret there are no images on social media until my own.
Here’s a scholarly essay from the smarter Photo Rangers in response. To give you a small taste of Celie’s essay I quote
“As a landscape photographer, you seek to capture the awe inspiring sublimity of the natural world, creating visual narratives that will touch those who cannot see it in person. After all, what kind of landscape photographer would you be if you kept secret the wonders of nature that you seek to celebrate through your art? Your role is to be champion for the voices of nature that are too often silenced. Champions are needed to remind the world that nature must be valued, protected and revered … otherwise it is rendered a space divorced from the human experience.”
We are eco-photographers and we will continue to champion the environment through public education and sharing our images. If we knew the traditional Boonwurrung name for the place we would use that name. We acknowledge and respect the Boonwurrung, their ancestors, elders and other Aboriginal people as the custodians of this land and we are but guests here.
Here’s Cecilia’s scholarly essay
Scholar Robert Tally notes that ‘what makes a place noteworthy is often the narratives that give it meaning’ (2013, p. 51). Recently my husband came across a place to which he became instantly enamoured. A rocky outcrop that frames the setting sun, it is a perfect place for his beloved long exposure photography. He calls the place Cadillac Canyon.
I am not sure why he calls it thus. Perhaps he was missing his homeland. Perhaps it reminded him of the canoeing trips he took with his father on rapids in Colorado. But questions were raised on his social media portfolio, where he specifically named the location, as to whether he had naming rights to the place … especially because, he was informed, it was a secret place for local photographers only.
Given that this great land upon which we live only truly belongs to its traditional custodians, no, he probably does not have such rights. But does anyone have a right to name a place? We do not own nature. Nature just is. Indigenous people all over the world acknowledge, nay, know this. Their relationship with the land is understood as a nexus with it. They belong to the land. They do not own it. It is only Western civilisation that enacts the ideological arrogance of land ownership.
However, no matter where we go, where we live or who we are, we encounter places that are so affective that we establish a spiritual affiliation with it. I say affective because these places induce visceral reactions and physiological affects – a joyous smile, a racing heart, a quickening pulse – in response to the wonder that lies before our eyes. And under the influence of such affects, we give it a name of significance and we become part of its story, its nomos, its mythology, not because we believe we own it, but because we feel that we are somehow inextricably (and perhaps inexplicably) bound to it.
As a landscape photographer, you seek to capture the awe inspiring sublimity of the natural world, creating visual narratives that will touch those who cannot see it in person. After all, what kind of landscape photographer would you be if you kept secret the wonders of nature that you seek to celebrate through your art? Your role is to be champion for the voices of nature that are too often silenced. Champions are needed to remind the world that nature must be valued, protected and revered … otherwise it is rendered a space divorced from the human experience.
In his book Spatiality, Tally (quoting geographer Yi-Fu Tuan) maintains that a ‘space becomes a “place” once it occasions a pause, a resting of the eyes that, however brief, makes it into a subject for story telling’ (2013, p. 51). A photograph tells a story, perhaps not in words, but through colour, light and geometry. And when a photographer rest his eyes on a sublime space in nature, that space becomes a place, a setting, a subject for his or her visual story telling.
And thus a place can be named as a means to signify the connection between photographer and the subject of their visual narrative. This is because the name becomes metonymic of their subjective experience of, and interrelationship with, a particular place. A photographer should not seek to claim ownership of a place for the secret enjoyment of a select ‘local’ few. That is Western privilege talking, or dare I say white privilege. A photographer names a place to acknowledge a sense of belonging to it, not as owner and proprietor, but as a soul connected to it.
So yes, husband of mine, you may name this place, to acknowledge your belonging to it, to signify whatever spiritual connection you have with it, to champion its right to exist in all its glory and to tell its story to the world. As for those, who wish to keep a beautiful place of nature a secret, perhaps you should re-examine whether you have a right to champion nature at all.
Tally, TR 2013, Spatiality: the new critical idiom, Routledge, London.
Images of Cadillac Canyon courtesy of Dale Rogers.