The more I photograph the wilderness, the more I question what it is.
Manufacturing National Park Nature by J. Keri Cronin analyzes how various groups and the tourism industry have used photographic representations of national parks to shape our ideas about nature.
The other day I took a photo of a very playful Andean bear cub atop a tree structure at the Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland (see below). My brain jumped back to Cronin’s book and a segment titled “The Bears are Plentiful and Frequently Good Camera Subjects.” The idea that between zoos and National Parks a level of wildness has been lost from sacrifices to the economic demand for nature. So then I went through some images I took in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, and I found a photograph of a doe (see below). I had made the photo while in a massive car line through Cades Cove. At the moment I took both of these images the animal didn’t mind me being there. However, I was a lot closer to the doe than I was the bear. Both occasions celebrate nature and wildlife, but on an even more grand scale, I question the act of me being in these spaces. It is more concerning that where one might expect wilderness to be wild it doesn’t necessarily behave as such.
Then I started thinking more as Cronin references a 1942 publication that proclaimed in Jasper National Park “animals become so tame they may be posed easily for pictures, especially deer, elk, mountain sheep, goats, and bear. In addition, When this sediment is compared with a quote from a 2003 Parks Canada brochure, in which the level of wildness of non-human animals living in the national parks is compared with that of those living in zoos, it becomes apparent that notions of wild and tame have not remained consistent throughout history of these spaces". (118)
In addition, the book Wilderness and the American Mind By Robert Frazier Nash talks about the Irony of Victory when it comes to wilderness. In other words, the same things that drive our love for nature may result in “loving wilderness to death.” All of which sounds hopeless.
When I get that way I think of a quote:
"Take personal responsibility. There is no list of 10 things we can do and no simple shortcut.
We are out of easy choices, and from now on, every choice we make will be harder, because the impacts, both positive and negative are becoming more obvious. Every consumer choice, every political choice, every investment we make needs to made with full information-its the only attitude that can change history.”
I adore zoos and our national parks, these are the places I connect to nature, and for many, it is the same. I am so very passionate about these sites as well, and I think it is healthy for many of us to reflect on the definition of wilderness today. It could be as involved as analyzing the age-old debate of Anthropocentrism vs. Biocentrism, to something as simple as questioning the authenticity of a postcard. I have provided more questions than I have answers, but I aim to find answers to many of my questions. I think now more than ever these conversations must be had and responsibility on all of our parts must be taken.