Curator Moran Shoub on the question, ‘What does the animal see?’
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The vast majority of photographs we received for the exhibition now on show at the Eretz Israel Museum show a magnificent animal in the center of the frame; but the center of the frame cannot tell us where the animal is. True, it is on grass, or perhaps on the bank of a lake, but as in the photographer’s studio, against the backdrop of a curtain, it is isolated from the landscape, disconnected from its surroundings, disconnected from its species. Disconnected from life, disconnected, disconnected, disconnected.
It is the photograph that disconnected it. I’d call it eco porn. Photographers use a telephoto lens to capture the animals (the image is well known, and the photographer, while photographing the animal, can also hunt it). More than illustrating a love of nature, it illustrates blatant egocentricity. It is more like a tour of the zoo than a photo shoot of nature.
A field spread out before us contains an entire world. The animal finds its way in the field. Let us look at it in its field, as part of its field. Its body movements respond to the field; it sniffs, it turns alert, it finds, it loses, it meets, it leaves, it is familiar with it. We may interpret this movement as noble or funny. We may ask, “What does the animal do?” We may observe and follow its gaze (when the animal looks at us, it is because we are interlopers in its territory). In the field, there is not one moment that is more decisive than any other. “The decisive moment,” in which a bird, for example, snares its prey, is an eventful moment with its own pace. In addition, it is not necessarily a decisive moment for taking a photograph. Perhaps there is no such moment, but rather observation, the light that sculpts the space, relationships between bodies, colorfulness and events, and from the moment a frame is defined, compositions emerge.
An exhibition of animals is not a field guide; not a bird field guide, not a wild animal field guide, not an insect field guide, not an underwater life field guide. Abundant nature photographs tell a story; they do not mount animals like butterflies, with the objective of keeping them safe in a drawer.
In addition to the photographs submitted to the competition and selected by a panel of eight judges, there are several photographs by some of the best-known nature photographers in Israel, for whom the love and protection of nature play an essential role in their work and worldview.
Landscape is what we see before us. It calls upon us to open our eyes and look. The animals out in the wild can guide us in this landscape. Consider the gazelle in its territory overlooking the view − what does it see?
Moran Shoub is curator of the #1 Nature Photography Exhibition.