There’s been a lot of discussion with in the California photography community this week in regard to the Wildflower Hotsheet run by Carol Leigh coming to an abrupt end. Opinions and questions abound, but I decided to hold off on sharing my take on the matter until I had a chance to hear back from Carol regarding an email I sent her. I feel for Carol. She is certainly in a tough spot and I sympathize with her. Only she will be able to make a decision that she feels comfortable with and all photographers should support her decision.
That being said my email to her was to try and highlight alternatives to shutting the hotsheet down. I’m a firm believer that the majority of those who took part in the hotsheet reports (those that provided information and those that leveraged that information) did so with the intention of sharing something worthy of enjoyment by all. The core community has been doing this since 1996 when she started the hotsheet. The people behind the CalPhoto.com community by and large are responsible people. Sadly not all people are responsible and as the hotsheet has picked up notoriety it has also picked up a broader audience beyond the core community. Among this broader audience there certainly have been bad apples included in the mix.
Here is where my opinion diverges from many who have talked to this issue…
- The format of the hotsheet is old (circa 1996) and there are an ample number of community platforms now available to collect and share share information with responsible members.
- The established CalPhoto community should be restructured to expand by referrals… not too unlike the way Sportshooter.com operates.
- In the field etiquette standards might also be provided with each report and/or as part of new membership admission.
- Another barrier of entry might also be to employ a membership fee to weed out bad apples who are looking for a free ride.
- Reporting standards could be modified so that only submissions also reporting on land conditions (with photos) be included in the hotsheet. Entries with land conditions of concern would then be omitted from the report and/or display a status of “closed”.
- The communities land condition reports would be provided to land managers to better protect these beloved locations.
The bottom line is that photographers have a responsibility to not just “take photos and leave only footprints” but to embrace a role as co-protectors. We photograph beautiful places because we feel a connection to nature there, and cherish locations we can commune with nature. These locations are perceived to be free, but they are not. Whether we think we’re the greatest stewards of the land or not we all take a toll on the land. No one photographer is holier than another. We owe it to the land, animals and ourselves to do our part. Leveraging that effort as a community is where we make the greatest difference.
At the same time we should not delude ourselves in thinking that because one report is gone that these locations will magically be safe again. Many know where they are and it’s not that hard to find with a Google search. At the same time no community is perfect. Information is out there and it moves freely. Sure some might argue that at least the movement of information can be slowed, but I would argue that is not a solution. That is merely putting ones head in the sand. Out of sight, out of mind… all while the damage continues from people visiting popular locations over longer periods of time. More importantly it circumvents an opportunity to raise awareness of the problem to those who can make a difference to protect the areas we value as photographers and naturalists.
The responsibility and criticism put on to Carol is unfortunate. In many regards she has become a lightening rod for this discussion. How do we best protect the areas we cherish that are under loose management? Some have framed this discussion around how much we share as photographers and how others don’t look beyond themselves and their own desires. How about we frame it around the hard introspective question that we should be asking ourselves, “What am I doing to give back to the areas I photograph?”