Food Chain = mud in the shorts

ghost crab (Uca sps.)

Ghost crab scurries to claim its prize - a newly washed ashore black drum (this one likely died as bycatch from a shrimp trawler), SW Gulf Coast Louisiana. Photo: Canon 7D; 10mm @f/8; 1/500sec; ISO250. (Photo by Gerry Ellis/Audubon/Minden Pictures)

If my career has been anything it has been dirty.  Muddy.  Wet.  Down right filthy.  On more than one occasion I have ended a journey with a ceremonial burning of most of the clothes, and often shoes, that I arrived on location with which to work.  I can recount cremations in Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Namibia, Thailand and now Louisiana.

Unfortunately the cameras, and lenses, have suffered a similar filthy final farewell – although I have yet to burn any of them.  They are tools, I learned that early on and have never forgotten that simple basic rule.  The shot is paramount, then the gear, then my bones and finally my clothes.  Oh, truly paramount is the safety of the thing I’m photographing – no, I can’t say that is accurate for every photographer out there.  If it were I would be asked over and over these days to sign “no kill contracts” – but that can wait for a future blog.  The point of this one is getting dirty to get the shot.

Ruddy Turnstone scavenging on dead marsh catfish

Ruddy Turnstone scavenging on dead marsh catfish, Gulf Coast, Louisiana. Photo: Canon 7D; 350mm @f/5.6; 1/1250sec; ISO200. (Photo by Gerry Ellis/Audubon/Minden Pictures)

As anyone who follows my ramblings here and on the other blogs I write – the food chain in the Gulf has been front and center my focus.  I think it is there that the chaotic impact of the oil and dispersants unleashed in this BP disaster will rear their ugly heads.  I want to be there.

The food chain is mostly invisible to the average eye – camera – and small at best.  Only late in the game does it bio-accumulate its way up the chain and roar in the tissues of turtles, sea birds, whales, even people.  By the time we see it, or manifestations of it, sorry amigo, too late. Things are dieing – possibly at a rapid rate (see fish kill blog.)  So I spend a lot of time slithering around on my belly, on beaches, and in bayous, building up reservoirs of mud in the shorts.

dead black drum

a newly washed ashore black drum (this one likely died as bycatch from a shrimp trawler), SW Gulf Coast Louisiana. Photo: Canon 7D; 10mm @f/8; 1/500sec; ISO250. (Photo by Gerry Ellis/Audubon/Minden Pictures)

I’m once agin going to trumpet the virtues of super wide-angle lenses, like the Canon 10-22mm I am constantly using.  Sure it carries a complaint or two from the purists. But frankly dramatic images out-weigh some obscure degree of corner sharpness.  The folks who just opened their monthly copy of National Geo or Terre Sauvage or Audubon magazines aren’t stressing over corner sharpness, or some obscure level of chromatic abrasion – they are getting lost in an image.  An image that speaks to them.  An image that tells them something about the world they didn’t know, or where confused or frightened about.  That’s my job.  I’m a story teller, not a technical reviewer.  You can always tell the difference – I’m the one with mud in my shorts.

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