I recently heard an interview with Freeman Patterson in which he referenced the importance of "Removing the Labels" when making an image. This simple, yet powerfully insightful statement has become a bit of a mantra in my photo-making lately.
Over the last couple of years I have spent a great deal of time creating documentary images for a few different conservation organizations. These images have/and are being used to promote and spread the word about various properties and preserves. I had been (and must admit that I still am) spending heaps of time pouring over natural history texts; trying to learn as much as I could about the species in my area. As I hiked any given trail each bird sound, each tree, each rock that I knew of would almost shout out its name to me. It became a little too much and I found that my obsessive studying had diminished my passion for the getting out there a little bit. So, I backed off of the research for a while and tried to re-discover what attracted me to nature and nature photography in the first place. After a lot of soul searching I realized that it was that it was the raw, child-like wonder that I used to experience when I would go exploring had been replaced by a type of cataloging mentality that was much more left-brained than right brained. In other words, I was becoming much less of the artist that I inspired to be and was drifting more towards (although a long way off from) the biologist that I had always wished that I could've been.
Now, obviously there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to know as much as possible about the world around you. Too many people drift around in a sort of blissful fog in totally oblivion in regards to their surroundings. I just happened to go the other side of the spectrum which can be just as mentally crippling if not kept under control.
So, right now I am really enjoying getting out and working hard to "remove the labels" for the natural world and enjoying just "seeing" and "being" while I'm out and about. Although I cannot say that my images have vastly improved –the public can be the judge of that– I have come a long way back towards and the point where looking through the camera makes me gasp in excitement at my subject instead trying to grapple with where it happens to fall in spectrum of natural history.