Depressing Inspiration

A Marvel of Ants

The much coveted title of Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year was awarded to Hungarian photographer Bence Máté from Pusztaszer for his image A marvel of ants, a simple shot that captures the complexity of the behaviour of leaf-cutter ants in the Costa Rican rainforest.

Every year my girlfriend and I go to the Wildlife Photographer of The Year awards at the Natural History Museum in London. It has become a little tradition of ours. This exhibition never fails to fill me with a sense of awe and wonder, not only from the images themselves but from the dedication and skill of the photographers who took them, and I leave the museum with an urge to go out and take pictures of everything. But this uplifting inspiration is usually tinted with hint of depression.

When I first went to the exhibition, perhaps six years ago, I believed it was beyond my capability to take these photos, that I couldn’t afford the right equipment or that I never had the right opportunities. It was easy to convince myself that the ability to take pictures like these was out of my reach. But over the years several things have happened that have changed my view on this.

Firstly, camera equipment has gotten cheaper. They list the equipment used to take each photo and each year more and more of the photos are taken on similar setups to mine. I currently have a Canon 550D. I considered buying a 5D MKII and could have afforded it if I could have justified it. I have also been learning how to use my stuff better, so technically I have the ability to take a decent picture. I can no longer use the equipment excuse to justify to myself why I haven’t taken pictures like these.

I also used to think these guys were lucky to be in the right place at the right time but I now know they aren’t lucky, they have made sure they are in the right place at the right time. There is nothing stopping me from going on an expedition to the Amazon or Arctic Circle if I really wanted to. I just don’t.

But one thing I am really bad at is just taking photos for the sake of it. I sometimes get in the mood, take my camera out, take a few snaps, feel like I’m not getting what I want, get in a sulk and then put my camera away again. I don’t persevere. There is no excuse for this behaviour with digital photography, it costs nothing to take more photos and experiment. Every now and again I will get a shot I’m proud of but they are never quite frequent enough to keep my enthusiasm going.

I get the same conflicting feeling from other sources too, most recently after watching The Social Network. I thought it was a great film and the idea of Mark Zuckerberg just creating something from scratch and making something happen is a traditionally inspiring story. But I came out of the cinema thinking: “There is no reason why I couldn’t have done something like that.” The internet is full of sites that are examples of people actually doing something with an idea they had. I have plenty of ideas, I just rarely do anything about them.

My other regular source of depressing inspiration are the TED Talks. These are a series of lectures from a massive range of people who are invited to talk about whatever it is they are working on. A lot of these talks are about environmental or social issues and are depressing by their very nature, but in most cases the speaker is working on a solution to the problem and it is uplifting to see the improvements they are making. Some of the speakers may be exceptionally clever but most aren’t – they have just decided to dedicate themselves to something they care about.

Now I know I’m not the only person in the world guilty of not acting on all their ideas. And I know that if I stop and think about what I have achieved with my life so far I haven’t done too badly. But this doesn’t stop me feeling bad for not having done more.

This website is an exercise in trying to just do something and I need to make sure I don’t just run out of enthusiasm for this project. Ironically I put off writing this entry for three weeks.

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