Tip #58: The Anthropomorphic Image

Something Stinks Around Here - Collard Peccary (javelina), Pecari tajacu
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x Converter
Saguaro NP, AZ

An·thro·po·mor·phic, adj: ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things 
It is the “cardinal sin” of the sciences, especially in zoological and botanical disciplines that require pure objectivity. The anthropomorphic biologist fails to see the adaptive nature of a behavior, lacks a clinical assessment of an interaction and allows emotion to betray the implications of the data. I can still recall the red marks on my first undergraduate thesis. Years of research produced pages of data that were written by hand and analyzed with primitive computers. My experiment was controlled, the statistics were accurate and my conclusions were sound. However, the analysis in my discussion lacked the scientific approach that stressed objectivity above everything else. I was reprimanded and forced to write and rewrite the thesis until it was devoid of humanity. 
The Old Man - Savanna Elephant, Loxadonta africana
Canon 1D markII + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS + Canon 1.4x Converter
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Twenty-three years later, this aging biologist and educator is also a photographer. The scientific mind is the objective mind, while the high school educator is the master of anthropomorphism. Atoms want to embrace as they form chemical bonds, prey strive to avoid predation, and plants try to grow towards the light. Claiming that hydrogen is the “slut” of the atomic world to oxygen, the “player,” who does nothing but take-take-take in the pursuit of electrons, I console myself that these sins are for the greater good ... the education of the next generation.
Broken Jaw - Mantled Howler Monkey, Alouatta palliata
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
Selva Verde - Costa Rica
As in education, anthropomorphism is the wildlife photographer’s friend. It is human nature to see ourselves in nonhuman beings, as this is how we build meaning from what we observe. The technical skills of the nature photographer fulfills my scientific mind. The pursuit of the subject, the assessment of phenology and the research of behavior are my science, but my goal is to transcend the technical and find the hints of humanity in my prey. Anthropomorphic images allow the viewer to see their nature in nature, and suggest the importance of conservation. When pictures define humanity with the absence of humans, we help others to see ourselves as just another biological being. Tug at some heart strings, promote conservation and search for yourself in your subjects.
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