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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why Underwater Fish Photos Are Important

In the December '09 issue of Fisheries MagazineJeremy B. Monroe wrote a brilliant article that poignantly discusses why images of freshwater fish underwater are so important in generating public awarenss and conservation of many species and their habitats.  It was the best summation I've ever read, and I'd like to share some of his comments here, (albeit in a heavily edited way) because I wish I had written this article myself.

    "As threats to freshwater ecosystems continue to grow, the vast majority of their inhabitants remain “out of sight, and largely out of mind”. This lack of public awareness of freshwater life may ultimately limit freshwater conservation as a popular cause, or movement. By its nature, aquatic life is inherently less visible to human eyes, and so images, such as photographs, play a critical role in visually connecting freshwater ecosystems to their would-be stewards. And while images by no means replicate human experiences in the natural world, they are a remarkably effective surrogate to enlighten audiences about natural ecosystems and their values. A passing glance at a magazine rack, television programming, and popular internet websites reveals a narrow view of freshwater life. In these popular sources of public information and entertainment, the vast majority of freshwater species are simply unseen, and therefore unknown to most people.  A closer examination of the common images of freshwater life reveals an issue that is perhaps more problematic than mere obscurity. Almost invariably, popular images portray sportfishes and most other freshwater species after they have been “landed” or otherwise extracted from their aquatic habitat. In these images, aquatic organisms are far removed from their natural environment and behavior, which precludes an aquatic, and perhaps empathetic, perspective of their lives and their world. Moreover, these struggling or dead organisms are commonly seen “at the hands” of both anglers, and biologists, portraying a conquering image. Though rarely seen in popular media, underwater images of fish and other freshwater life in their aquatic habitat can more naturally convey the intrinsic and ecological value of these organisms, as well as their evolutionary, and even spiritual aesthetics. These images celebrate the aquatic world by depicting the natural beauty and behavior of freshwater life, the splendor and uniqueness of freshwater environments, and the intricate relationships among species and their habitats. In their natural medium, free of human hands or devices, organisms appear independent of humankind, and their intrinsic value is therefore made more obvious. Indeed, the vision of an organism behaving naturally and relating to its natural environment is precisely what can allow us to sympathize or even empathize with other species and appreciate their significance in our own world or worldview. It is these ecological, evolutionary, and spiritual aesthetics that will presumably resonate more deeply with the broader public, and are most likely to drive conservation movements." 

Nice work Jeremy.  Thank you for putting into words what keeps me doing this.

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