2009 McKee Photography Grant Recipient: John Lehman '10
I approached the McKee expecting to photograph falconers as well as their falcons so that I would be able to explore the relationship between the handler and the handled, how it is that the skills of such wild animals might be harnessed, and the inherent art that lies at the foundation of this very ancient, tradition-steeped practice. Moreover, I wanted to find out what it means to pursue falconry in modern times, now that it has little practical purpose. Lofty goals, I know.
I ended up not attacking any of these issues. Who would have thought that getting together with falconers would be so difficult? Certainly there were circumstantial troubles at play, but I have to say that what I ended up doing was far more satisfying. While I worked to find amenable falconers on the East Coast, I spent hour upon hour photographing local osprey nests, watching the chicks grow and observing the daily drama that infuses that highly successful predator's life.
I only include one print from the time I spent with the osprey. This is not only due to camera troubles, but also to the amazing and fortuitous experience I had while in Santa Fe during July. By sheer accident, I happened upon a wildlife rehabilitation center, the Wildlife Center in Espanola, that housed over ten species of raptors. I spent hours photographing them, and a volunteer at the Wildlife Center, an amateur falconer himself, brought out the Center’s prize bird, a hybrid gyr/peregrine falcon originally bred for a sheik in Saudi Arabia. Suffice it to say that in only a few hours, after spending months getting nowhere, I had the material for a show.
I was using by that time a digital camera with a 300mm lens, and when I returned to Bowdoin, I strove for several weeks with the finicky business of making inkjet negatives and then developing images in the darkroom. I found it possible to get images I liked, but the process was so impractical and time consuming that I had to turn to printing the images. I located a very good commercial printing company and obtained prints of the images at a quality and scale that I was satisfied with.
Now I have a number of prints of birds. Can I say that the images address the issues I set out to explore? Not particularly. But do I think that’s a problem? Certainly not. The images themselves appeal to me on an aesthetic level, and whatever 'meaning' they have for me, I don't think I have the right to divulge. We wouldn't want the photographer to sway the reactions of his audience, would we?
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