“I Stare at Dirt!”
The cell buzzes and I see my sweet bride is calling. I’m just sitting in the truck with the camera sitting across my lap so I answer. “Whatja doin” she asks? “What I always do, I stare at dirt” I reply. She’s says with a smile in her voice, “And you do it better then anyone else!”
I wish when I started working with the endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox back (one of the 1st species to be listed as endangered back in ’64) in ’87, I kept records of all the months I just started at dirt in anticipation of a fox emerging from a den only to see dirt the whole time. Seriously, I have spent an entire day staring at dirt through the lens looking for activity only to see at most, an ant or fly. It just goes with the game, just because I show up doesn’t mean mother nature will. And you might think I’d learn and perhaps stop or do it better but neither is the case. I am working with the best biologists on the planet and even though some of the dens have collared animals and we know that animal is in that den, it still doesn’t mean when you have light, they will emerge. The Kit Fox is a “nocturnal” animal by nature but it does have some daytime activity. That’s what I count on, that “some” as I stare at dirt.
I got home at 02:00 today after another great week working with my friends, both biologists and kit fox at five different den sites. Two of those sites, I never saw a fox. At one, the photo you see above, that’s the only click I made after a couple of days at the den. One other, I only shot video at night under funky lights and the other, well on the very last day at the very last minute, I was blessed with some great biology in the last glow of light of the day. To me, that is an amazing week of success and that’s because I have come back from a week and all I have are shots of dirt!
I am always very appreciative of folk’s praise when they give me grandiose titles as a wildlife photographer. But I’ve seen images from “weekend warriors” that are much more spectacular then what I’ve captured in my career. What I am probably the best at though is staring at dirt. I’m a long haul, project wildlife photographer not going after the “best” shot but the “best biological” shot that not only tells a story about the critter but answers questions about its biology to move preservation forward. There is a big difference between the two “bests” in my book. And to me part of that is ego and commitment driven. While a “best” photo lives a glamorous life for a short time being heralded as the best, sadly they are forgotten in as short period. On the other hand, “best biological” gets nearly no notoriety but the images lives on for a very long time in science. To me, that’s much more a valid goal for my images.
The D4 was important to me to obtain because of digital as a tool. The D1 besides opening the digital world to my photography (and for many of you as well), captured a photo of the kit fox that went around the world hours after being taken that made an impact. I foresaw the D4 with its high ISO video as well as still abilities able to do the same thing for this same species, one that is very much imperil. All I had to do was get the two together, the D4 and the kit fox which required me to perform my specialty with flawless professionalism, stare at dirt. And that last evening in that last moment of light with the camera ISO set at 1600, something I never did in the past, I made the shots that are in the process of being written up as I type because once again, biology and technology came together for a moment to record while not earth shattering and nothing you’ll see on the evening news, history. You see a hint of that in the photo right above, not even 12hrs old by now. There is no pay, no assignment, no fanfare just the simple reward that applying a craft with passion, a photo can make a difference in the grand scheme of things. All of this doing what Sharon says I’m the best at, I stare at dirt!