After meeting and photographing the school group having a squirrel education day, I went to visit them at their school, to see how the subject was taught in the classroom rather than in the woods. I took in a taxidermist red and grey squirrel with me to show the children the difference in size as they (or the teachers or many people for that matter!) have never seen a grey and red squirrel together. I also took my camera in and voice recorder to gather more primary research for my education pack. I was spending time with my specific target audience and wanted to gather and hold as much information as possible to work with when creating my teaching resource. Whilst my images to come out of the day are nothing to be proud, the experience of visiting the school was invaluable. I actually met my audience in a real life situation and could see how my project would work and impact lives, what the children like to engage with and how much they take in at one time.
I also saw around the classroom walls the kind of phrases to include and what language was appropriate and that the use of colour was paramount to all of the resources on display. There was also a significant lack of photography and so I know my work is filling a gap in the market and that there is a definite audience ready for it when I am! An education pack is perfect for my work, I just need to get over my fear of the unknown and make a successful one now! The teachers at this school have very kindly said that I can email them with questions and are happy to look at versions I produce to see if it would legitimately work as an actual resource for teachers to use. I’m excited to continue with the project and bring all of my knowledge, passion and photography into one easily accessible and informative yet fun education pack for the adults of tomorrow.
Seeing last years winners and entries, gave me confidence that my own images were relevant to enter into the “Documentary Series”. The conservation of red squirrels is an extremely important feat in British wildlife and so I hoped that showing images of educating the next generation of the efforts would be an unusual entry. I tried to pick colourful and vibrant images to compliment the education of children and avoided graphic images of the dissection. I made the bold decision to include one image of a skinned grey squirrel, if the children are willing to look at to then the general public need to stop ignoring the situation and try to understand as well. It may not be what the judges want to see but I would not be true to myself if I ignored the grey squirrels and only showed cute images of the reds. Avoiding the difficult subjects in life won’t ever fix them or make them easier, it will only amplify the problem. I’m not 100% sure I chose the right images, however I feel confident that I could develop my project over the next year and enter again for the 2016 competition with a stronger submission.
Finally I have a purpose for my shooting!! I feel a new burst of energy and have a sense of purpose for my project. This new found direction has given me confidence and structure in my shooting, with each photo contributing to my vision of educating children on the red squirrel battle. With an education pack in mind for KS2 children, I finally had focus and clarity in what I was doing and it just ‘felt right’. My photography improved as I now knew what I was shooting for, I had felt a bit lost prior to this end goal project. I had ended up just taking pictures for the sake of taking pictures, now they had purpose.
With all that said, I should have taken a flash gun with me, a few of my shots just don’t quite have the right light or gleam of the eye, next time I’m shooting in a woods I will definitely take one with me! I just assumed as it was a beautiful sunny day that the light would be perfect for it, it was a complete oversight on my behalf. I also should have taken my longer 300 lens into the enclosure with me before the children arrived. I distorted the squirrels by being too close to them (I wasn’t expecting them to come and investigate me – I was just there to shoot the environment!) and I could have blurred out the background and got more detail when the squirrels were up in the higher canopy of the trees. Next time I photograph them I shall take all my lenses with me and not naively assume that I won’t need one or the other. I made sure I shot with a low ISO as I wanted the option to print these large if needed (I really should have taken a flash gun with me!).
I also had a hand held voice recorder with me all day and recorded the ambiance and interviewed people (be it teachers, parents, education rangers or the children) all day, as I intend to create a short audio clip to accompany my images. I want the voices of the next generation engaging with conservation and specifically red squirrel conservation, to be heard by the current generation. The more people my work can engage and educate the better – people may not listen to me hopefully they’ll listen their children.
Similarly to the grey trapping images, I won’t be able to use several of these images as ‘animal rights activists’ will most likely sabotage them, which is ironic as the children watching understood why this needed to be done to have a balanced ecosystem and were excited to learn about the reasons behind the culling of grey squirrels. Hopefully by creating an education pack for young children, the next generation will be able to differentiate between situations of necessity and barbarity. Again, I should have used my long lens at times and not been so physically close to the children, I should have stepped back and picked out expressions and detail in the scene. This would have stopped any distortions of shapes and sizes and created some entertaining pictures at that! I enjoy shooting the interaction of humans and animals and feel this is my strongest area, I still need more practice of photographing large groups of people though.
Overall the day was simply wonderful, it was just so encouraging seeing such young people engaging in such an important topic and generally interested and asking questions all day. Its given me hope for my project and above all, the future of red squirrels.
I’ve found my purpose/direction/audience/end goal/perfect project. Back in January when I went to the UK Squirrel Accord meeting, “Public awareness and Education” was voted as the main priority. So, why not educate the next generation who will be able to make a difference to the red squirrel conservation efforts?! I am going to create education packs for teachers to use in primary schools to teach their children about conservation and more specifically, red squirrels. I need to look into the national curriculum and contact teachers to find out how to design an education pack, what content they must have who I can best use my photographs. I feel like something has clicked and this is what I was always meant to do.
I’ve contacted Vic the head of Camp Wild at Escot Park http://www.escot-devon.co.uk/camp-wild/ where the red squirrel enclosure is found and she has sent me over some really useful resources to start looking at and I am going to go down to Devon to shoot a school group visiting the squirrels in a few days. I feel a new passion for my project and really want to do everyone involved in the red squirrel struggle justice with all the information I have learnt over the past months.
National Curriculum >>> http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20131202172639/http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/primary/b00199179/science/ks2/sc2
How NOT to create an education pack!! >> http://www.dardni.gov.uk/red-squirrel-education.pdf
Some facts (I need to make them more engaging than just photo and text):
THE PROJECT CONSISTS OF PHOTOGRAPHS, VIDEOS, SOUND RECORDINGS, AND AN INTERVIEW.
Whilst it may appear that I have a new found fondness for pigeons, it is a coincidence that this photo book has also taken my fancy. Once again, the portrait layout has enticed me in and I’d like to try my work out in this format, I feel that it looks bold and straightforward and doesn’t distract from the content within. This book also works extremely well with all the images as full bleed – I have never created an entirely full bleed book before and would be excited but cautious to do so. I’m still not sure what I’m trying to say in the book, other than promote the reds and show the damage done by greys. I don’t yet have an exact target audience in mind either which is somewhat hindering my shooting and progress. Mueller’s work is enchanting and majestic that brings beauty to a rather stereotypically ugly bird; a bird that is often shooed away. It is a story of a mans companionship with these birds, less obvious than most human-animal interaction documentaries but nonetheless a friendship of sorts. It was shot over a year and I feel that my squirrel project will benefit from this length of time too – I am going to continue it after this module ends as I feel I cannot do it justice or in depth enough with such little time left. I have also been inspired by Mueller’s use of multimedia and want to replicate an element of this in my own work. After hearing the children asking questions at the red squirrel talk at Escot Park and engaging with the information they were hearing, I would like to take a sound recorder with me next time and capture the audio to accompany the image. Like Mueller, I could have images (a book), video content on a website, audio and interviews. It’s ability to educate people on the conservation efforts would become much stronger with these added elements and it would reach and interest a wider audience.