Last Wednesday and Thursday I had planned to be on a boat to Machias Seal Island to photograph Puffins, a trip I’ve wanted to make for several years now, but several discouraging weather reports as well as uncertainty as to whether the ship would actually attempt an island landing on Thursday, prompted me to reschedule this adventure to this coming week. In the mean time I’ve been working on the never ending challenge of editing current work to see what sings to me.
A few weeks ago on a trip to Provincetown I visited MacMillan Wharf looking to photograph the large beautiful sea duck known as the “Common Eider”. Now here is the point at which I’d like to digress and address a concern I have, which in the end my rant will never succeed in changing. It all has to do with the word “common”.
Joseph Campbell began a discourse with Bill Moyer with the phrase “There is a certain conceit on the part of man…”, and that phrase stuck with me because it can be the prefix to the examination of many human foibles. In this case, the use of the word “Common” to describe any level of experience, any species, any event, presumes that the person ascribing the label is of such wisdom and superiority in the nature of the universe that they may dismiss a given object, species or person as unexceptional and hence “Common”. To me, to do so is to deny the object of this definition it’s fundamental right to exist. A right we neither have the power to give or take away; a right certainly in the realm of a significantly higher power to impart.
Now at this point I can hear the keyboards clicking of wordsmiths near and far who will assert that several definitions of the word “Common” as used in these instances refers to the “found in large numbers” limb of the definition of this term and in the strictest sense gramatical use, this is an appropriate application. But… I contend that human nature is such that several negative inferences come along for the ride as a consequence of our human nature. I’m suggesting that even the inference of high frequency of occurrence is something we emotionally read as “not to be reflected on as important”.
There are lots of males. Are you a common male? There are lots of Universities. Is Harvard a common university. There are jillions of cars. Is yours a common car? Perhaps you think I labor this point a bit much and perhaps you are right. I am however advising caution and observation about the use of terms which have excess baggage firmly attached.
Now about the Eiders that I found. The males have distinctive head and bill shapes and wonderful colloration. Although the angle of approach from the height of the pier was less than optimal, the use of a long lens tends to reduce the apparent angle of incidence. On this day a couple of unique events presented me with a couple of interesting images. As the Eiders swam slowly amongst the pier pilings and around the fishing vessels berthed their, a particularly red boat cast a red reflection on the water. After shooting many images with the ducks on the blue water, I remembered an old maxim that says, “Don’t forget to look behind you.” I looked behind me and sure enough, big drama was about to happen. I noticed a single male swimming toward a large red reflection on the ocean surface. The reflection was cast by a large red fishing vessel snuggled up to the pier. Implications of the hand of man aside, I wanted to catch this juxtaposition of the duck on this unexpected red ocean surface. Swinging my tripod around and flopping around on the pier like a seal hauled out on a sand dune, I repositioned myself in time for a quick manual focus and firing off a few frames before the sea duck moved away from the astonishingly red water.
Alas, of the seven shots before he swam on to bluer waters, only one shows him reasonable sharp with substantial red in the frame. Post frenzy analysis of the EXIF shows I was at 1/800th and f6.3 at 700mm for the first few frames which was a little slow on shutter speed for critical sharpness. Another frame however shows red highlights on the surrounding blue wave action and with a higher shutter speed, renders everything in greater detail. I’ve included them both just for fun although the jury is still out on whether I will print the red one.
Here however are a few curiousity questions for you, the viewer.
a) Without knowing the circumstances, would you suspect that I “Photoshopped” either of these images?
b) Do the red reflections change this from a “pure nature photograph” to something else?
c) If so, what?
Certainly, all-said-and-done these Eiders are anything but “Common”.