Wild Mustangs graze in an eastern section of Arizona’s Tonto National Forest.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
HUMANS, ALL TOO OFTEN, ARE PATHETICALLY INEPT AT VIEWING THE NATURAL WORLD through any lens of experience outside their own. We define things as being relevant or irrelevant relative only to our own needs, operating under the idea that the whole works is somehow put here for us. The wider universe of breathing, thriving, feeling things only becomes visible when it crosses over into the realm of our wants, our concerns. We are predictably, often fatally, clueless about life except as it pertains to us; we act as if someone left us in charge.
Obviously, this affects the kind of photographs we make of our interaction with nature. But seeing nature only on our terms shapes the images that we seek, providing only a narrow frame of reference. How to make a picture of something that we barely apprehend? How to capture the essence of a thing that strikes us as exotic, even alien?
Acting yesterday on a tip as to the whereabouts of a sizable herd of wild mustangs in the part of the Tonto National Forest near Fountain Hills, Arizona, I found myself, like all the other travelers pulling off to the side of the Old Bush Highway, struggling to apprehend the existence of a horse stripped of any connection with man. These gorgeous animals would never know the sting of a bit between their teeth, never wince from the pain of a branding iron, never labor under the weight of a rider or the cinched constriction of a saddle. That is, they would live their entire life as horses among other horses, with no thought of any other life or task beyond just being a horse. They looked like the “nature” we thought we had seen a thousand times, and yet they lived in a world defined by their priorities, not ours.
Guides in the area were on constant alert to make sure that we gawkers maintained a respectful distance, lest our presence violate the terms of the very special audience we were being granted, with most of the horses within fifty feet from their visitors. Some interpreted this as a way to safeguard our safety, but I chose to believe that it was they who needed protection from us. Our smells and sounds; our energy, our intrusive humanness. For one of the only times in our lives, we were in the presence of something innocent, something raw, unrefined. Unmolested. The wise thing was to remind ourselves that we were guests, not masters, awed children, not cowboys. Here was a chance to slow down and learn something.
Taking pictures of the natural world is never a single, simple thing. Many of the problems we have created for this tired old planet stem from the fact that we are increasingly estranged from most of the beings that we share the Earth with. Too often, we spurn true partnership between our realities and those of other creatures. How can our cameras be trained to tell the truth when we still know so little of what that truth looks like?
Leave a Reply