You have probably noticed that I have not written anything for quite a long time. Right now I’m not sure whether I will or will not continue this blog. For me, this year has been simultaneously very good and very bad. You might remember the “best of times, worst of times” opening line from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. The actual full sentence reads:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Photographically this has been a great year for me. I think I’ve taken some of the very best photos of my life this year. And I’ve recently started working with the new Nikon D850, which I consider to be by far the best Nikon camera I’ve ever used (and I almost hate to admit just how long I’ve been a Nikon shooter, going all the way back to my very first Nikon camera, a Nikon F Photomic that I bought in my sophomore year of college).
I’ve continued to travel widely. I’ve made a few of what I call my “last-time trips,” repeat trips to the exact same locations at the exact same time of year, journeys that I do not plan on repeating one more time. These destinations include Japan in winter (snow monkeys, Steller’s sea eagles, red-crowned cranes, winter landscapes), Iceland in winter (frozen waterfalls, glaciers, icebergs on black sand), and, starting a week from now, the sub-Antarctic islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. I’ve done each of this trips multiple times, and simply want the opportunity to photograph other locations during the same time frames.
Yes, the best of times has been very good indeed. I’m in pretty good health, still mentally functional (although that’s always debatable), still an avid and compulsive book reader, and just as curious about the world as I’ve always been.
So what’s this “worst of times” bit?
First a bit of background info. I came of age in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Yep, that just gave you a hint about my age. I was involved in the Vietnam era, and the Nixon debacle. But over all these years I believed America would become a better country, a better people. I felt truly blessed to be an American. I love this country.
And then 2017 happened…and I started needing to apologize for America during my travels abroad. Environmental regulations rescinded, climate change denied, immigrants demeaned and threatened, civil rights ignored, white supremacy in the open and applauded, politics by 140 characters, and facts called fiction with no objective truth allowed. I’ve become extremely pessimistic during this year about the future of our country, and, for that matter, pessimistic about the continuation of human life on this planet. Nuclear war is not a casual option to be dismissed in the same cavalier manner in which you would a sports rivalry.
So an enormous split in my life has developed: on one hand, I’ve never been more pleased with my photography and have never felt closer to my friends and loved ones. On the other hand, I’ve never been more frustrated with, and mortified by, the social and political scene.
Yesterday Robert Mueller revealed charges against three former Trump campaign officials. Is there a glimpse of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel?
Brevity will be difficult but I will try. We are close to the same age, where we catch occasional glimpses of mortality darting into our peripheral vision. I believe you and I share a desire to leave the world just a little better than we found it. To see power willingly given over to those who thrive on discord and the rapidity with which sanity has been cast aside is incomprehensible. This is not the world I envisioned my children inheriting. Personally I do not find much comfort in the idea of President Pence or of President Ryan which leads to a depressing observation: far right voters will walk through fire over the bodies of their children to get to a ballot box; too many of us liberals don’t like to go out in the rain. Finally, to others who may read this: If we do not seek and find a way to live together (ALL OF US) we will ultimately stumble upon a way to die together. Vote accordingly, even if it is raining.
John, as always, your thoughts and reflections resonate deeply with me. I’m just relieved, upon reading your entry, that your photography and intellectual pursuits continue with undiminished vigor, and that the future still affords those who’ve been inspired by your creativity and knowledge a lot more to come. Please don’t let the current political climate and tenebrous state of our country deter you from continuing with this wonderful blog — a beacon for those who share your interests, sentiments, and love for our planet.
Follow up. Obviously, not enough liberals are nature photographers or standing in the rain would be second nature for them. Also, will you be posting any of your new work to your site?
Our country may spiraling toward a bad end, or it may not. It’s too soon to say, though the outlook is indeed bleak at the moment. At any rate, nothing lasts forever, a fact we all increasingly face with the passage of the decades. All we can do is pay attention, vote for sensible candidates, and carry on with our lives.
So, please do not despair and keep blogging and posting new photos, John. You’ve inspired many people and continuing to do so may be more important now than it has ever been.
Hard to read this, John, in large part because I share your pain and have watched as I fight to even F*CKING retain my enthusiasm to engage with life, much less photography. I remind myself, nearly every day, that what I see through my lens is the bulk of the real world, whether humans remain a part of it or not. As bad as it is, we now undeniably know what choices there are before us. You work continues to inspire. Thank you!
Hypothesis: “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – M.L. King.
Proof: NIK is back!
John, I echo your sentiments, as we are dealing with our own social and political turmoil in Australia. It seems the world has gone pear shaped.
I’m not of your generation; I was born in 71. (And…I shoot Canon…omg). Maybe this is as good a time as any to say thank you for inspiring me. I got interested in photography by virtue of a coincidence of events. With my Canon point n shoot I had managed, one lucky day, to take a decent photograph of my friend rock-climbing. I thought the image was so cool that I began to wonder what I might be able to capture…on purpose. Getting lucky again, I found your book, “The Nature Photographer’s Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques” at a book store. I immediately took to your style. You know what you’re doing (even though I might not) and how to articulate it to others. Your instruction is free of bias and technical without being sterile. This might run long…I am admittedly (though unapologetically) verbose.
I share all of your concerns about the political climate; at least that much is comforting. I remember the moment when I was sure he had won. I’m not super patriotic, but I do love our country and appreciate how lucky I was to have been born here. The realization that an insincere egomaniac would be representing my country made me feel so helpless. Without becoming melodramatic, I did feel sick to my stomach.
The lingering fear I have is that his behavior, and that of his enablers and supporters, is lowering the bar for the future. That, and the fact that our government has actually become a parody of itself. I value simple courtesy as well…manners if you will…and I took it for granted that someone without them was unelectable. I live in San Diego, CA where because of the electoral system, my vote is pointless. Nevertheless, I cast it anyway.
I am not an activist, though I did attend the Reason Rally in Washington last year…as close as I come to “activism”. But, the thought of a wall, AN ACTUAL WALL, going up between my hometown and Mexico against my will…has me frustrated and angry. And, if something like that actually got underway, it might awaken the activist in me. I’m not promising I’d chain myself to something (do people still do that) but who knows.
My message was to have been more hopeful sounding, but once I got going… Anyway, there are plenty of Generation Xers who are right there with you. In the end, we must care and seek to fix the things that are broken, but not stop living our lives. To that sentiment, I am glad to hear it’s been a good photographic year for you. I look forward to seeing you update this website (the gallery section) so I can see what you’re talking about. I check this blog fairly regularly for your insights, but I understand if you don’t feel compelled to continue it. Let it be said though, that you have inspired me to take photography seriously, and to spend some money on a decent tripod. Thank you John.
Wow, you must have missed the latest update on political drama! Your unelected wonder woman has been exposed as a crook (again) by hacking poor Bernie’s election possibilities! No mention of that, but your whining about Trump exposes your total blindness to any possible good that he is doing and will do! You and your pitiful liberals rants are not effective anymore, just “overexposed and unprocessed” ignorance!
I’m of the same generation and share the same reactions, for the same reasons. It’s difficult to counsel against despair, except to suggest that it is essentially passive, therefore unlikely to be productive in itself. That doesn’t do a lot to lift the spirit, I know. But you write about this eloquently and with impact. Perhaps finding additional venues in which to express your thoughts would be of value, troll responses notwithstanding.
Nice try Patrick, I am old enough to have lived and grown through a liberal mindset that was totally emotional in understandings, ignorant in facts! You have have given the typical liberal response, name calling and an attempt to marginalize the person who has taken you to the end of sensible debate! By the way, I was born in 48, I doubt you understand or have the skills to evaluate my empathy for others or what it even takes to be presidential, you and I my friend
cannot imagine the responsibility that that position requires! You and I simply debate the fragments of what is their daily toil.
Wow! Russ, I know you’re gonna read this to see who takes the bait. Didn’t you notice that the only person who alluded to Hillary Clinton is you? You sound young. I used to be young. But I grew up, observed life, and learned. One of the things I learned is to be patient with ignorance because ignorance often stems from deficient development of the prefrontal cortex of the brain resulting in diminished executive function which in turn inhibits a person’s ability learn or to rationally analyse their own behavior. One clinical sign of problems in the brain is lack of empathy such as you exhibit here. In short, the affected individuals either do not realize they are behaving like a horse’s ass or they enjoy being a horse’s ass which makes you sound downright presidential. If you are lucky enough to live long enough, as John and I have, maybe you will learn, too. However, I fear the odds are not in your favor.
John, I too echo your sentiments. We live in a sick world with a violent affliction. There’s a line from a Bob Dylan song called Licensed To Kill that says “man has invented his doom” and we have…all it will take now is one nut job to push the button. I think we have at least two nut jobs to be concerned about.
I do hope you will contiue to write your blog posts as time permits. They are always very worthwhile reads, loaded with good common sense.
Safe travels to the southern hemisphere 🙂
Hello, Russ. It took you over two hours to respond. Did I catch you at a bad time? I bet a little rain won’t keep you out of the voting booth. Me, neither. I’m done now.
Your work touches more lives than you probably realize. I am from a different generation and a totally different background. But I look up to you and expect you to remain strong and continue to do what you do best.
I hope you will take the steps necessary to keep yourself happy, cheerful, motivated and also hopeful about the future.
Looking forward to see some updates in the gallery sections in future.
I bought my own Nikon F body back in 1959, when it was first released. I was 28 years old, and in the early days of a 32 year career in the fledgling semiconductor industry. And I had no idea then that, at age 59, I’d risk our retirement savings to start up Really Right Stuff, but your initial nature photography book served to inspire the birth of that business—it provided me with the spark that I needed to begin a new and fulfilling phase of my life. Thanks for that, John—RRS was a lot of fun—and it allowed us to retire with pride and satisfaction.
My (12) years at RRS also marked the first time that I had sustained telephone contact with a wide segment of the consumer retail market, and I found the public to be a lot more diverse than I’d envisioned. The callers ranged widely, and while most proved entirely rational in all respects, others were clearly not calling to consult about equipment—they had peripheral agenda. That experience has underlined, for me, the pervasive belief that we probably “get the leaders that we deserve”. The current administration, however embarrassing it might seem, is hardly an exception; just compare the damage done in 2000-2008. Further, consider the comparative state of public health care, gun control, wealth distribution, education, and criminal justice. Our nation is mired in third world inequity, and many that we’ve elected are professionally committed to sustain this backward state.
Climbing out of this self-inflicted chaos to become the nation that we’d hoped will be difficult, but clearly possible. If it’s within the will of the majority, we only have to persist. We’re a very young country, but the earth is a small place, and our time may be getting short. We deserve better.
For a long time I admire your photography work John and I would like to ask you, please do not mix photography “Art” with politics, remember “all politics” no matter what party you like, all are dirty, they do not fight to be there just to bring the country for a better place. I always say the same, in the regular world if you do not perform in a company you are fired, politics should be the same. I came to this country many years ago and even I was not born here I would like the best for USA and I see many Americans just want things for their own benefit. Conclusion, lets keep taking about photography.
Remember that our country is bigger than one administration. We will learn from this experience and be an even better and stronger world leader. There is still no better place on earth I’d rather live than the USA. I didn’t spend 30 years of my life working on technologies to defend this great country for such pessimism to undermine what we’ve accomplished in our young history. BTW: the nature photography experience in this country is second to none!
John, I understand too well what you’re feeling. There was a time when I thought there really was such a thing as progress, and that we were, bit by bit, chipping away at the hatred and intolerance in the world. Now everything we love — and as nature photographers I can make some assumptions about that — is under assault. And I have little faith we can turn it back.
Not a fan of politics but I am a fan of your photography and your books have been an important part of my development as a nature photographer. Thanks for being so generous with your knowledge and I hope you’ll continue the blog.
In 1989, at the age of 50 I purchased a new Nikon 8008 and the lens I chose was a 60 mm Micro Nikkor. At that time I was using print film and snapping pictures all over the place. I looked under a flower and saw some sort of insect and took five or six shots. When I got the film back from the lab I was really surprised to see the detail that was captured. That’s what led me to my first John Shaw book, Closeups in Nature! When you came to San Diego several years back I asked you if you would autograph all my John Shaw books and you agreed to do it so I lugged the whole bunch in for the second day. They are some of my proudest possessions. I’m 78 years old now, but I continue to look for anything around me that might be a good target for a camera whether I have one with me or not. I will never forget the first butterfly I found clinging to a bush in the early light just like you said they would be! I guess what I’m trying to get to is that there are still a lot of fledgling photographers out there that would benefit from the wonderful vision that you are able to pass on to others. I may be a silly old man but I’m not about to give to the Criders of the world!!
Since you said you might shut this blog down, while I’ve got your ear (“eye”, actually) I want to thank you for the beneficial contributions you’ve made to my life, and thousands more, through your teaching the technical parts of photography as well as the art of photography. I think only a few dedicated fans read or even know about this blog, but I know that for many people, learning photography from John Shaw’s workshops, books, and this blog which permits direct conversation with you is akin to learning music from Beethoven. When your name comes up with ANY photography instructor I’ve heard, there is always an expression of real respect and admiration.
I think that the joy which comes from making a good photo, both technically and artistically, has truly enriched the lives of so many non-pro photographers and their friends and families. I hope you’ll keep contributing to that, through this blog and otherwise, but also hope you’ll do what makes you happy. With a little luck, that will accomplish both ends.
There where a few photographers who influenced me most: Shinzo Maeda, Pat O´Hara, Max Schmid and John Shaw. Your Books where back in the 80´s a reason for me to become a professional photographer. My journey was not straighforward to nature photography, and for earning money I also worked as a “ship photographer” and did many other boring photo jobs. And aside from my love for wild nature I certainly also struggle with the often bad daily news. I can understand your frustration about politics, as we have our own problems here in old Europe. And it is the same here, the louder the shout the less they achieve. But there is a severe misconception about voting, democracy and politics: People often think that it is enough voting every 4-5 years and the rest of the time it is complaining (often in the pub) about the foolish politicians who are responsible for all the bad things happening.
Keep in mind for news(paper) the old saying is still valid: “When it bleeds it leads” or “Bad news are good news”. The world does not get better when we are reading bad news every day or online now every 30 minutes!
Please John switch off your news channels for a while, go out in the nature an enjoy what you find. What I experienced at a lot of journeys around the world is that people are everywhere mostly harmless.
But for the few unpleasant people out there: “May you live in interesting times!”
John, I have read your books and now follow you online for advice. I am of your generation, having fought in Vietnam where I first became interested in photography. Like you, I find the current brand of politics in the whitehouse disturbing and disheartening. Maybe most of all it is difficult to understand the abject ignorance that is accepted by no small number of Americans. However, if one looks at history, the human race has survived harder times than these and I believe that this too will pass. I hope for and see brighter times ahead for America after we weather the current storm. Please don’t give up on your blog. We need to continue hearing from you.