I think it fair to inform readers from the very outset of this post ( some might prefer to label it an "extreme rant" ), that I am probably not the person to write on the subject of game farm photography, as a fierce opponent of it, objectivity is in short supply. Regardless of my entrenched position on one side of the fence, i will continue. For those who may stumble across this post, who have yet to hear of this deplorable practice, here is a quick overview that I will expand on further down the page. It is not rocket science, it simply involves a certain species of photographer ( lazius armus chairus ), paying a sum of money to the owners of places like the Triple D Ranch in Montana, USA, in return for standing around clicking the shutters of their dslr's pretending to be wildlife photographers. The ranch holds captive ( prisoners for profit ) a substancial number of species, ranging from Wolves ( a whole pack of them ), Mountain Lion, Grizzly and Black Bears, Snow leopards, Amur Leopards, Tiger, Lynx, Artic Foxes....... the list goes on, whom the ranch owners like to to refer to on the companies website as WILDLIFE MODELS !!!! Artistic licence or what ?. Christy Turlington, Naomi Cambell, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss are Models, all of whom got their paychecks at the end of Paris, NY and London fashion weeks, threw their Levis on , slipped into their favourite Manolo Blahnik heels and headed down the pub, with lots of heavaly panting men in tow. They got to leave the show, and any normal person with a clear conscience and the ability to understand intrinsically right from wrong, will fully understand these poor creatures are nothing more than camp prostitutes or prisoners, models my ass !!
The process starts as follows. The photographers arrive no doubt all kitted out with the latest gear, 3 layer goretexed from head to toe, Gitzo carbon fibre tripod, ( note, it is very important to have the carbon fibre gitzo as the walk from the car park to your shooting location could be a real struggle, especially if it is more than 50 mtrs and there is a bit of snow on the ground, which will piss off a few of them because it means there is the possibility these armchair warriors might get a stain, or even worse cow or horse shit on there Timberlands or worse their prized handmade German Meindl hiking boots ). The equipment list will blow your mind, and makes even me jealous, what I would not give for a new shiny Nikon 600mm F4 on the front of a D5, or the 200-400 zoom !!. Once these " pretenders to the throne" are set up in a line like a bunch of puppets, the animals will be led out in some sort of pre arranged order, and the whole spectacle of capturing images, none of which will ever have any substance or story behind them, commences.
Game farm photography exists for one reason only to make money. Obviously there are those in the business of keeping animals locked up for profit, who are quick to point out that their business model not only creates jobs, wealth and employment, but creates opportunities for the advancement of consevation in general. If only that were true. The general public have no idea how an image is captured, unless it is accompanied by a short paragraph explaining the process, or it is part of a good piece of photojournalism and the whole story behind the process is laid out in the article. Another and equally dangerous part of this picture taking farce is what the animal is actually doing in the image. Again I go back to my own exploits and close encounters in Patagonian with the Pumas or Mountain Lions as our North American cousins refer to them. In all 50 + encounters I had, did a Puma ever appear on a rock right in front of me, at day's end, the light so perfect I could have wept, back lit, front lit, just as the sun is going down, subject in mid flight between the take off and landing point, no it did not, which is not to say this won't one day happen to me, but when the libraries are bursting at the seams with images of the same Puma, called Shirley, leaping and landing on the same rocks, one begs to know how this portays the real lives these elusive creatures live in the wild, it does not. I was on the end of a few "if looks could kill " stares as I foolishly pushed my luck , but until now I was never on the recieving end of a snarling female protecting her cubs, or a lone male stalking me, and I have has dozens of these encounters and spent plenty of time with both.
Another image that is done to death by the armchair brigade is of the Puma running through the meadow or down the gentle slope, blanketed in deep virgin snow, and miraculously it is always hurtling straight towards the camera, or another favourite is the Snow Leopard, Wolf, Amur Leopard standing on the snow coverd boulder, one front paw raised snarling and showing full dental work in perfect light and a photographer happened to be there so close with a 24-105mm lens, IT DOES NOT HAPPEN, so why con the public. These species are dangerous, they are not approachable, as depicted in these fantasy photography snaps that fill books, calendars, posters etc. As far as the Mountain Lions are concerned, they can be seen and do hunt during the day, but as a rule they are crespuscular or nocturnal, so these images are a long way from being a true representation of what anyone, who feels the urge to head off into the wilds and try his luck, is going to return with. Sometimes we get lucky, but if even the most determined photographer with all the time in the world beleives they are coming back with images anywhere near as good as what our gang of ( lazius armus chairus ) photographers will capture before lunch at the TRIPLE D, they are going to be in for a shock. Every image taken under such conditions, of all manner of species, forced to perform or exhibit behaviour and poses, sometimes with the assistance of a cattle prod in it's fanks or rear end, offer zero insight on the species or the world they inhabit, to borrow from the mouth of the clown currently in the White House, IT'S FAKE NEWS.
There are of course, the world over, breeding centres whose main aim is to help captive breed species whose future is far from rosy, and the numbers left in the wild are close to being labelled low enough to not have a viable breeding population. A good case in point was Spain's recognition of this very fact with regards to the Iberian Lynx ( Lynx pardel ) once found in Spain and Portuga and in earlier times across the Pyrenees chain and into France, now however it is only found in a few locations, and in reality only 2 contain barely viable breeding populations on the whole Iberian peninsula. It was only as far back as 1999 -2002 that the species was down to somewhere between 75-100 individuals, so drastic action was needed. Thankfully a captive breeding program was initiated, and with financial assistance from the European Union, Spain's famous Donana National Park set up the Acebuche breeding centre in 2003, and by March 2005 the female known as Saliega , taken from the larger Sierra Morena wild population near Andujar, Jaen province, Andalucia, gave birth to the first kitten born in captivity. The program has flourished so the immediate threat to the species has been relieved, although there long term prospects are still sadly very much in doubt. ( An article on my 4 months spent filming the Iberian lynx will be on the blog by xmas 2017 ) .
These types of centres are a necessity, the future of many species will depend on places like this, but how can one justify the keeping of animals species such as those held at the Triple D, who are not endangered and facing extinction in the wild, one can't, it's misery for many, and it's purely for profit. There is much talk around in these troubled times about " fake news " , most of it emanating from the mouth of the president of the USA, but there has been plenty of fake imagery of numerous wildlife species in the past, helped nicely along by places like the Triple D. Being decieved and having the wool pulled over one's eyes is not really what anyone wants to be a victim of, but millions of people who buy publications and books, or view them online are having this done to them on a very regular basis, like it or not. The market place is full to overflowing of images that appear to be of totally wild animals; going about there daily struggle to survive in their habitats, but the reality is far too many of these images are of captive animals, poor unfortuntae pawns kept incarcerated just to be led out and forced to pose for the armchair snappers and filmmakers, looking for a quick cheap way to create their artistic fantasies.
How many memebers of the public are aware of this practice ? how many would be utterly shocked if they really knew the truth ? some obviously would not care, but I believe the majority would, and would wish to see an end to the unnecessary imprisonment and suffering for pure finacial gain. I was often asked about my Patagonian Puma images and how I managed to capture them. Are they chocolate box lid / wildlife calendar material, maybe one, because it was shot on Fji slide film years ago, pushed a couple of stops in the chemicals at the lab, but luckily looks more like an oil painting than an image, thanks to the grain, the rest not, but they are very very real and behind each one, is a fascinating story, some real tangible substance, context as opposded to fantasy.
Did I travel so far for so long on so many trips to the southern extremes of the South American continent for financial gain, no. Yes the expense was considerable, well I did ship a Landrover to Argentina from the south coast of England and spend 22 days at sea with it, eating and drinking fine Italian cooked food with the Italian officers and crew of the 60,000 ton Container / Car transporter ship , Grande America, but that another tale. I went in order to experience living in a stunningly beautiful area, filled with wildlife, and take my chances, I have spent 3 years in total in the region, and will be returning to shoot a film in the winter of 2017 about the life of Pumas in the region, a life of feast or famine, which is an apt metaphor for what I may or may not film as I knuckle down to spend my first winter in Patagonia for 14 years. I am also going to use the time and film to try and influence CONAF ( the forestry service who administer all Chile's parks and wild spaces ) to limit the number of people allowed into this fragile region, and this includes limiting the amount of photographers and filmmakers who have been coming here in increasing numbers in recent years. In doing so, I may undermine my own future trips to the park, by having to join a lottery style draw, that minimises the impact on the Pumas and plethora of other species that inhabit this Patagonian Paradise.
I may not get all I want, but what I do film, will have been captured through sheer hard work, integrity, respect for the species, like learning to read the the signs and know when enough is enough, to say I have a deep passion for my subject is an understatement, but this is the minimum needed in order to live in their world for extended periods, and hopefully depict these elusive predators, doing what evolution and nature intended for them.....living free.