The Camargue Mission is completed.
As wonderful and diverse as the Camargue is, it is extremely difficult to photograph due to very limited access. The Camargue, a vast wetland formed by the Rhône Delta, is divided into private farmlands, rice fields, scientific organizations and a National Park. They all have one thing in common. The owners protect their property with barbed wire fences against trespassers. Even most gates have razor sharp wires on the top and are secured with heavy-duty locks. I also have never seen more “No Trespassing” (in French of course) signs anywhere else in the world except for military areas.
The planning of the project itself started with a more or less one-sided email communication between me and the scientists at the research centre Tour Du Valat located within the Camargue. In order to accomplish my mission I was largely dependent on the cooperation of this organization that owns large areas of natural habitat in the eastern part of the Camargue and also is in charge of the flamingo colony, the main focus of my mission. If answers to my inquiries came at all then only after repeated emails. Later, when I was already in the Camargue the lack of interest in the Wild Wonders of Europe project continued.
Within 3 weeks I was allowed to visit the flamingo colony twice for a total of 2.5 hours, barely enough time for getting a few strong images, not to mention a whole portfolio on the most important breeding site of flamingos in Europe. Only when the leader of the flamingo project said during a phone conversation “We don’t like if photographers take advantage of our work” did I realize the reason for the lack of communication and support.
This comment is both sad and incomprehensible. Can’t we both support each other to achieve ultimately the same goal: the protection of endangered habitats and species? What can be more powerful then a combination of scientific evidence and a powerful image. We photographers know the media and have the experience to reach large audiences.
Unfortunately this attitude towards photographers is not rare. I hear similar complaints from many of my colleagues. Some keep this problem silently to themselves. But silence doesn’t help to resolve this issue.
This misunderstanding between scientists and photographers is one of the reasons why 3 years ago at the World Wilderness Congress in Anchorage Alaska a group of 40 photographers formed the International League of Conversation Photographers (ILCP). The idea came from Cristina Mittermeier, wife of Russel Mittermeier, president of Conservation International. I am one of the founding members of this league. Our goal is for scientists and photographers to work hand in hand on conservation issues.
Some NGOs have seen that there is much power in great photographs and they support us in the field as good as possible. There are numerous great examples of successful co-operations between both parties.
I go to the length of writing this blog not to complain about the lack of support in the Camargue but to express my wish and hope that more and more scientists and NGOs try to see nature photographers not as an unwelcome nuisance but rather use our skills and help to be more powerful in achieving a common goal: the worldwide protection of wilderness and threatened animals.
Last but not least I would like to thank the owners of the private bird sanctuary at Pont Du Gau for their invaluable help. Without their support it would have been nearly impossible to get good opportunities for portraits and behavioural images of flamingos.
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.