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 Nature Photography :: Essays :: The VCR Principle

Years ago I owned a VCR and, with several years computing experience, I was even able to program it. When I was in danger of missing a good movie I would set the VCR to record it. I don’t recall ever actually watching one of those recorded masterpieces but it didn’t matter. All that was important was that I could watch them if I wanted to. I call this the VCR Principle.

A similar principle applies to the general public and their view of our wild places. The vast majority of Australians will never see, let alone experience, the wilderness. However by viewing the recorded image they know that it’s there, and that they can experience it if they want to.

As landscape photographers, we bridge the gap between the wilderness and the public. Thousands of people can view the wilderness through our eyes without actually going there and increasing the strain on the environment. A simple photograph can even remove apathy, causing normally complacent people to stop saying "What’s all the fuss about, there’s hundreds of rivers" and start saying "Enough is enough". The best example of a photo having such an affect is that of Peter Dombrovskis’ Rock Island Bend image. It is credited with saving one of Australia’s most pristine wilderness areas, the Franklin River.

It’s possible however that this is a two edged sword, removing apathy on one side and generating complacency on the other. As the wilderness decreases and becomes more difficult to find, the intrepid landscape photographer will try harder to create great photographs. The public will view these photos and feel warm and fuzzy knowing that there is still wilderness out there, somewhere.

The fact that the wild places depicted in their 2025 calendar were the last 13 remaining wilderness areas may go unnoticed, and when 2026 arrives and there is no calendar it’s too late.

So are landscape photographers the good guys or the bad guys? Are our images causing more harm by encouraging people into the wilderness and thereby overloading it, or do we help people find the courage to fight for a heritage which, whether they use it or not, is theirs to enjoy.

I believe that we are the good guys but I’m prepared to leave the question open. One thing I do know is that as much wilderness as possible should be preserved so future Australians have a choice.

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