I haven’t taken a photograph of a bird for c35 years so nature photography isn’t my passion. This may be because my father was a keen, amateur landscape photographer and sons tend either fully to absorb or shun their father’s interests. But I do remember, perhaps before reaching teenage years, going with Dad to an exhibition of Kearton photographs which included, and this is what I remember, a photograph of their hide which was made from a stuffed ox.
Richard and Cherry Kearton, brothers, took the first photograph of a bird’s nest including a clutch of eggs, in 1892. That was far from the last of their ‘firsts’ as photographers.
They are regarded as founders of the discipline of nature photography and this book, despite showing that they cut corners and bent the truth a bit, cements that title and their reputation.
They were creatures of their age, sons of a part-time gamekeeper and themselves keen to bump off a few species, they were happy to meddle with nature a bit, loved to have pets (including adders) and did not wholly limit their shooting to photography.
That stuffed ox was one of their first portable hides and delivered good photographs of a Skylark nest on one of its first outings. I learned it had a rather brief working life, May-July 1900. A portable sheep and a portable tree were also in the repertoire.
This book takes us back to a different age where photography often involved laborious expeditions with lots of kit – cameras, lenses, tripods, film, chemicals and the odd stuffed animal – but also where everything was to be learned and done for the first time. This is a long way from digital photography with massive lenses.
I liked this book a lot. You certainly don’t have to be a nature photographer, or even a nature-lover to get a lot from this well-told tale of two trail-blazing brothers. It is well-written and well-illustrated with the Kearton’s photographs. If you look at the back cover of the book you will be surprised by the birds perching on the wrist of the outstretched hand on the front cover.
The Keartons: inventing nature photography by John Bevis is published by Uniformbooks.