The Use of Captive Animals
Animal Models Photography: The Artist's View.
For the last several years there has been a tremendous amount of discussion within the natural history community regarding the use of animal models for the purposes of still and motion picture photography. Some argue that there is a benefit to showing the public an animal that would not normally be seen if it wasn't for animal models, while others argue that keeping an animal in captivity for photography is unethical. Still others believe that it is wrong to portray animal models behavior as natural, since it may not behave in the same manner as its wild relatives. Where do I stand on this issue?
I side firmly with the group that feels that animal model photography can be very beneficial. However, I also believe that the public should know whether or not the pictures they are seeing are of animal models, and that the behavior depicted should try to reflect the natural conduct of the species. In order to make the animals origin clear, we at Natural Exposures clearly indicate if the animal is wild or an animal model to all our publishers and picture buyers. No image within my limited edition Fine Art Print series contains any animal model subjects. All limited edition Fine Art Prints are of wild and free roaming subjects.
It is my belief that if it weren't for animal model photography there are certain species of animals that would never be seen by the public. As the old adage goes, "out of sight, out of mind." Even worse than an animal being out of mind is an animal out of money. For example, without the tremendous amount of photos of wolves published in the last ten years, we might not be seeing wolves in Yellowstone National Park today. Wolves are one of the creatures that are very difficult to document due to their wariness and secretive ways. While there are a few special places where a person can hope to see and photograph wolves, almost nowhere is it possible to document their lives. Trying to do so can also be extremely disruptive and harmful, especially in denning situations.
One exception to this is a pack of wolves that lives on Ellesmere Island in far northern Canada. These are arctic wolves, however, and as magnificent as they are, people feel a need to see the kinds of animals to which they can relate. In the United States, it is the gray wolf that runs through some of our forests, and occupies the imaginations of our people. However, due to their rarity, and the fact that they live primarily in dense forests, they are exceptionally difficult to view and photograph. Because of this, virtually all of the published wolf photos of the last decade were of animal models. Despite the fact that these images were of animal models, these photographs and films helped people get to know the gray wolf, providing the public with a better understanding of the animal, its life, and its needs. With that understanding, political and financial support was obtainable to help the reintroduction of wolves back in to the wilds of Yellowstone and other parts of the West. Now, many very good images of wild wolves in Yellowstone are being seen.
My hope is that photography, through the use of some animal model subjects, helps foster a better-educated public. With education will come support, especially for those creatures that are either so elusive or so rare that neither the public, nor the wildlife photographer, would otherwise have a chance to see them. Animal models, ethically raised and humanely treated, can act as "stand ins" for their rare and wild relatives, helping to generate the support a species needs to survive in our increasingly human-altered world. That support, I hope, will eventually transfer to the protection of entire ecosystems in which these species live, providing benefits not only for the exciting or charismatic animals we rally around, but also for the thousands of other plants and creatures that share these wild places.