5a•The birds & the bees, life and death, natural causes, and comedy
Relativity, realities, and perspectives from nature photography
All photos by LensAfield
A previous post related a brief personal history regarding my photographic pursuits. I said my unfocused early interests quickly gravitated toward photographing life that we don’t see — really see. My nature photography has altered my perceptions of small-scale worlds around me — around all of us — that don’t rate highly on our relevance meters.
At first, I would go afield and photograph whatever life I happen upon at the moment, and then move on to find another moment. That undirected random process left me with a sense that my images lacked focus and direction, so served no purpose. A photo captures a moment that in and of itself doesn’t tell a complete story.
I realized I wanted to know how these moments in these lives came to be and where they were headed. I developed a penchant for serial and lifecycle photography whenever there was the opportunity to do so.
I selected the two images above from a series taken of two male mockingbirds, deliberately presented without context. The images depict moments from a mating-season fight over a nearby interested female. Knowing that information, looking at the second image, you might conclude that the bird on its back is dead, perhaps with its eyes gouged out.
The reality was that with the fight over, the birds parted ways like it never happened. The dominating winner in this battle for DNA supremacy claimed his prize. The submissive loser was able to try again to win his — elsewhere — another day.
Without context, images can be misconstrued—or used to to deceive or misdirect.
Once I enter the world of my subjects, my perspective changes, as does the nature of my photography. By finding and focusing on one particular micro-scene, I have chosen to ignore the potentially hundreds of other equally small dramas that may be playing out on their own own unique micro-stage, oblivious to all others, all occurring within a few inches or feet from wherever I set up shop for the moment. I must become immersed in that scene, as well as focused on what will or might occur next, without disturbing it or altering outcomes.
But I also became aware that despite the unique nature of each scenario, that there are common elements across species interactions, all hardwired into their instinct-driven beings. And I must be aware of my human perspectives, suspending them so I do project those biases or emotions into what I am observing and capturing with my cameras.
Perspectives On life
Putting aside the inevitable chicken-or-egg conundrum, it seems natural to begin photographing a lifecycle at the beginning, with the reproduction phase. Whether the subject is botanical or animal, there was probably sex involved. It is said that sex is life-affirming as well as life-creating. It is often risky business for some spider and praying mantis males, among others.
Before there is the actual physical act of mating among animals, there are usually pre-mating behaviors that are often difficult to capture in the instantaneous nature of photos. Some are quite complex and can play out over widely varying timeframes depending on the species (e.g., drinks, dinner, movie, motel). Others are likely completely missed or dismissed by the casual and disinterested observer:
But if you recognize these to be the first act in their particular mating process, and remain unobtrusively vigilant, you will likely witness the sometimes frenzied and orgiastic events that may follow:
Others have no observable preliminaries: One second, I am watching a female bee working a flower. In the next, a male appears out of nowhere and mounts in an instant.
Across a multitude of species, the classic stationary “doggy-style” mounting is easily the most easily observed manifestation of the copulation process…
but sometimes not.
Sometimes what starts on the ground continues in the air…
You see flowers.
You see bees on flowers.
Do you ever consciously consider what is going on in that symbiotic relationship?
Flowers need to seed, and bees need to feed.
Every flower is a come-hither; every bee (regardless of sex) is just a gigolo, everywhere it goes.
After all that mating there is a gestation period…
…followed by the blessed birth event:
Who doesn’t love looking at two- or four-legged newborns that are small, furry or feathery?
Even seeds and seedlings are interesting.
Video of grape flowers opening.
We are probably not so enamored of the nursery scenes for baby critters that have six legs (insects), eight legs (arachnids), or no legs (worms, snakes, and certain larvae).
This mass of insect eggs deposited on fine bird netting…
becomes this mass of juicy protein…
Many young of higher animals need to be protected and cared for in their early development and taught skills needed to survive. They need to be nurtured.
And like humans, some insects practice forms of animal husbandry:
Other animals are on their own from birth, genetically imbued with all the instincts and skills needed to survive and thrive, like these newly-hatched orb weaver spiders. They have all the skills to spin a web…
and to capture and consume appropriately-sized prey.
Just how small are those scenes?
We, humans, are accustomed to seeing the growth and development of our newborns to adulthood as a visibly linear process of development in that children resemble the parents all through life. We observe the same process in our favorite animals: A puppy is clearly a dog; a fawn is a deer; a colt is a horse. Hatchling birds don’t look all that much like their parents, but they are still clearly birds. Each example remains easily recognizable for what they are throughout their lifespan.
We are probably only vaguely aware that other lifeforms do not go through the same development process. Some go through a process of metamorphosis, such as tadpoles. It is linear but the tadpole has no resemblance to a frog but becomes more and more like one during continuous transitional development until it is one. The changes occur slowly and smoothly.
Others undergo a non-limear metamorphosis where developmental changes are sudden, abrupt, transitional forms that look nothing like the final adult stage. From our perspective, some of these transitional stages could easily be mistaken as fully-developed creatures of different species.
These kinds of metamorphic transformations look like a magical series of “deaths” and “rebirths.”
Insects have external skeletons which must be shed (molted) to grow larger.
Feeding is a universal lifetime activity for all lifeforms.
But life for most of the tiniest and least noticed creatures seems to revolve almost exclusively around finding food and producing their replacements…with luck, before becoming food themselves.
To be continued in part 2…