Integrity. noun. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.Merriam-Webster dictionary
Integrity implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge.
It’s always been important for me to live with integrity. In a world which is increasingly corrupt, lies which get spouted like they’re truths, and confusion abounding on what is ‘real’ and what is ‘fake’, it’s been vital for me to be grounded in my own morals and firm in my own principles. But it’s not an easy path and I often wrestle with my conscience.
I’ve been pesco-vegetarian for over 30 years and am passionate about animal welfare. I don’t agree with zoos, unless it’s for conservation purposes, and would never dream of attending an animal circus. Why, then, did I find myself visiting a ‘wildlife’ park this summer?
The honest answer is that I am so limited by my health and inability to travel that it’s the only way I have access to exotic animals. It’s not like I’m ever going to be able to get to Australia to see kangaroo in the wild or Canada to photograph wild brown bears. But as I wandered around the cramped space, watching animals clearly bored out of their minds (we went nuts being confined to the house for 3 months during the Pandemic, imagine your whole life spent in the same tiny compound) I felt genuinely sick to my stomach. Guilt dogged my every step, because if nobody visited these places they wouldn’t exist.
I feel the same way about cruelty to domestic animals, for example horses. I owned a pony as a kid, but these days I know better and think horse riding is cruel. I wouldn’t kick my dog in the ribs to make him go where I wanted, but it’s acceptable to do that to horses. What’s more, it’s seen as a healthy and pleasurable past time! We still allow whips to be used in horse racing, and watch on the telly as defenceless animals are beaten. Yet I’ve used horses before in my pictures. In my defence they were wild horses and although they were living in captivity, ie not on the fells, they weren’t being ridden.
I’ve since ummd and ahhhd over whether to use the pictures I took that day at the ‘wildlife’ park. How can I feel pleasure in an image derived from another living, breathing, feeling, creatures’ misery? But then I thought about my own restricted, isolated life, often confined to one room, and realized I had no qualms using myself in my pictures. My photography is a way for me to be free and I depict myself in all sorts of situations that I couldn’t possibly achieve in the real world – could I not do the same for the zoo animals?
This is the latest image I’ve created from my wildlife park trip. I hope it gives the impression of freedom, the natural curiosity of the Gibbons and transports them to a more beautiful world. I did initially put some trees in the background, but it made the picture way too busy and the Gibbons kind’ve got lost. I still think they’d enjoy being in a wildflower meadow surrounded by buzzing bees and flitting butterflies, even though their natural habitat is forest 🙂.
Am I kidding myself that it’s OK to use these images? Selling out in the quest for a good picture? I don’t know to be honest. I didn’t imprison these intelligent, almost human mammals but my entrance fee helps to keep them there. The reality is they couldn’t live in the wild now as they will have lost all hunting and survival skills, so the least I can do is set them free if only through my art.