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  • Writer's pictureRobin Hill

What is "Biosphere Photography"?

Updated: Jun 18, 2022

If somebody is klicking his or her way though our website or Instagram page, and then would have to choose a greater category for what they see, many would probably go for classic "nature photography". And that's not completely off path, of course. Why we don't like to describe our work as nature photography too much, however, we would like to clarify here as well as in future blog entries.

Photo 1: "Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga, South Africa" (© BuserHillPhotography)

The main reason for this positioning against the term of "Nature" can be found in our studies at university. Beside biology, we did also study social anthropology. Even-though this subject got (and still gets!) smiled at, we learned quite a lot during those courses. For instance, one of the most important debates in social anthropology over the last couple of decades has been preoccupied with the "Nature-Culture Divide". We don't wanna get overly theoretical in this first blog entry. In short, this is the discussion about the historically grown separation between nature on the one and culture on the other side: Where does nature end, where does culture begin? Is there a clear separation or is it more of a smooth transition? What caused the fact that humans perceive themselves and their culture as being something that is opposed to nature?

The humanities in particular have comprehensively deconstructed the dichotomy between nature and culture over these past decades (Cronon 1995; Ingold 2000; Ingold und Pálsson 2013; Descola 2013). Meant is also the explicit separation between humans and non-human animals (Hurn 2012). And even though the natural sciences, also, have long acknowledged the inseparable connectedness of human activity and ecology, this divide persists in our everyday speech:

"I gotta get out into the nature once in a while!"

"Use your knife and fork - we ain't animals!"

But again: where does this nature begin and where does the "realm of humans" end? Is it nature already, if I step out of my house and hear a bird singing up in a plane tree? Or am I stepping into nature only when the dirt road finally diverges towards the woods and away from the tarmac road? Or when the adjacent trail wears off in the thicket? And what about the empty "Capri Sun" and the used condom I find there in the moss at my feet? And how the heck did this Japanese knot-weed end up in a central European forest?

Photo 2: "Forest path, Grande Cariçaie, Switzerland" (© BuserHillPhotography)

Nature, animals, culture, landscapes, humans - we want to integrate all of these elements into our collage projects as humans have left their traces all over the planet. Almost no mountain peak is left unclimbed, ships have sunken down to the deepest deep sea and micro-plastic can be found in the massive ice sheets of Antarctica. The term "biosphere" can help to generate a solid foundation for this holistic approach. Like Edward O. Wilson - after all "Darwin of the 21st century" and "father of sociobiology and biodiversity" - already put it:

"The biosphere is the living environment, the thin layer around the world of living organisms. We're part of that. Our existence is dependent on it in ways that people haven't even begun to appreciate. Our existence depends not just on its existence, but its stability and its richness." ~ Edward O. Wilson ~

From our point of view, this interconnection can simply not quite be grasped by the circumlocutory term of "nature photography". The term nature - as a counterpart to "culture" - tends to see human activity and human mindsets as something that happens outside of what we refer to as "nature". And although we love photos of surprising wildlife moments and even if idyllic, perfectly composed landscape shots take our breaths - they always only tell one of many stories within a certain biosphere. In principle this is a good thing, as detailed perspectives on a certain theme can offer never before seen insights. We just locate ourselves and our photography somewhere else, somewhere within the biosphere's many intersections, that is. An example which visualizes this approach quite well is the following photograph we took during our research stay for our master thesis in the Mozambican province of Inhambane:

Photo 3: "Low tide at Bahia de Inhambane, Mozambique" (© BuserHillPhotography)

A young man is searching for molluscs in the sand of the lagoon during low tide, layers of yellow sand and turquoise water have emerged, a small flock of flamingos and a lonely whimbrel (black spot in the foreground) are looking for food, a dhow lies in the bay and at the horizon coconut palms spread out, disrupted only by plumes of smoke and a transmitting antenna. All of these elements constitute this unique strip of coast. Documenting this immense diversity and the humans embedded within a complex ecosystem, is what fascinates us in particular.

This should not mean that we always depict landscapes, humans, animals and plants altogether in every single image. With our photo collages (see "Projects") we set out to portray biospheres through their various bits and pieces. In doing so, we want to convey a feeling to the viewer. A feeling for the multifaceted beauty of a place and the many little stories - often controversial - that take place within them.

Now, we stirred up big questions and gave little answers. We want to take the chance to dive into and discuss these questions in more detail throughout this blog. And maybe we also manage to bring a bit more order into our own chaotic strings of thought. :-)


Further Information:

  • Cronon, William. 1995. "The trouble with wilderness; or, getting back to the wrong nature". In: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the human place in nature. Hrsg.: W. W. Norton. 69-90

  • Descola, Philippe. 2013. "Jenseits von Natur und Kultur". Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag AG.

  • Hurn, Samantha. 2012. "Humans and other Animals: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Human-Animal Interactions". London: Pluto Press.

  • Ingold, Tim. 2000. "The Perception of the Environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill". Hove: Psychology Press.

  • Ingold, Tim und Gísli Pálsson. 2013. "Biosocial Becomings: Integrating social and biological anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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