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Question of the Month
June 2011

Why did we drop our NANPA membership?


Mary and I have been members of the North American Nature Photography Association since its inception. I've served on the Board of Directors, Mary has been the emcee of their annual summit several times, and I've given numerous breakout sessions and seminars at the summits, and we've been honored by being a Keynote Speaker at one of the summits.

We have made many friends through NANPA and have had, through the summits, the opportunity to renew or refresh friendships and acquaintances made elsewhere. We have very fond memories about NANPA.

Unfortunately, NANPA has suffered somewhat due to the financial crisis and recession, and summit attendence has fallen for the last few years. Accordingly, there will not be a summit meeting in 2012, but memberships are being offered for an 18 month period, which should cover the time period of a 2013 summit. That might not be a bad deal.

Since NANPAs beginning, the 'wildlife model' or 'game ranch' or 'captive animal' debate has been an almost constant theme. I've used these game ranches in the past and have argued or debated this issue at NANPA summits and in their publications, and I could write a few thousand words on the positive side of these facilities. I won't do so here.

I always hoped that NANPA would play a more active role as a lobbying group -- not with Washington but perhaps with refuge managers, airlines, and other areas where we, as photographers, often suffer some impact. Little has been done in that area I'm afraid.

When on the Board I urged NANPA to change the times of the summits to a late spring or early summer time slot, arguing that a meeting at this time would open up the entire country to these summits and free NANPA from the southern tier of States it normally uses, or the risky ventures further north where travel and weather are problematic. Another organization I belong to, the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) does exactly that which makes their meetings very attractive, as attendees now have a real excuse to visit new areas of the country. I suggested that NANPA team up with OWAA to approach convention centers to offer a deal where these two similarly sized organizations would use the same facility in the following year. This could have, I suspect, reduced the costs of these expensive summits.

The costs for these summits always bothered me, as I felt that struggling photographers, especially young, poor photographers (I lived that life a long time, so I emphathize here!) could afford to do a summit and derive the benefits. Instead, the summits remained expensive, and too often catered to enthusiasts who could afford to come, folks that were now retired or had already enjoyed a successful business career. A thirty year old, starting out and trying to make it, would have to think twice about attending a conference or buying equipment -- or simply paying housing bills! I didn't think that was right.

But that wasn't what triggered my decision. What did was NANPAs decision to begin to slide down a slippery slope of censorship. Last year, NANPA made the decision to prohibit advertising from game farms, a decision prompted in my opinion by some very vocal, very persuasive, and very narrow-minded board members or members with their ear. Assuming that they are prohibiting this advertising because the animals are not really 'wildlife' or are cruelly imprisoned wild animals, the decision opens up further policy changes in the future.

For example, would photo tour leaders be prohibited from advertising, or buying mailing lists, from NANPA if they include game ranches on their schedule. Perhaps they wouldn't actively advertise this in a NANPA ad, but respondents might receive further information detailing such tours. FOR THE RECORD, we have never used NANPA for advertising or mailing lists and never intended to, so I ask this as an academic question not one based on a personal peeve. Carry this further -- would NANPA censor (in any number of ways) photographers who visit game ranches? Would NANPA begin to define what makes a game ranch, or a wildlife model, or a captive animal shoot? Would that then lead to discrimination?

Take it another step forward. Several NANPA members, and some quite prominent ones, have sold images to the hunting magazines. One could argue that if using wildlife models at a game ranch is exploitation, then supplying images to a hunting magazine where these images are serving as motivation or examples or 'carrots on a stick' for hunters anxious to shoot the fox, bobcat, coyote, or whitetail deer illustrated. I actively support hunting, so I'm not blasting these photographers or these magazines here, but I am suggesting that vociferous proponents of animal rights or animal welfare might later carry their first ruling into more and more draconian policies.

Hopefully that will never happen, but the groundwork may have been laid. When we learned of this proposed ruling (the prohibition of advertising from game ranches) I wrote to a friend on the board who forwarded my email to everyone else on the board. I never heard from anyone except my friend, which I expected, but in that email I said that we were likely to drop out of NANPA if this policy was enacted. They did, so we did.

We wish NANPA well, and perhaps we'll rejoin at some point in the future, if indeed NANPA survives the decision to skip a year free of a summit. I'd love to see NANPA hire their own staff, as OWAA has, which has kept costs far lower than the management company they are using. I doubt if NANPA will reverse their game farm decision, and in truth that point alone is a small thing. But where will it lead? Where could it lead? Sorry, NANPA, but censorship based on opinions shouldn't be a part of this organization. Good luck.

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