Monday, February 1, 2010

Burgess shoots a moose, with a camera

In an 1896 Burgess short story in New England Homestead titled, "Gerald's Moose," a couple of boys on a hunting expedition compete to see who can bag the first buck and who can spot the first moose. Gerald curses his inability to shoot a deer ("Gerald had as yet killed nothing but a fox and was thoroughly discouraged") but does manage to squeak out a victory in the moose spotting contest.

By 1903 the gun has been swapped for a camera (though Burgess and his companion are still packing revolvers) and the moose spotting has been captured for perpetuity. Here's the story, "Photographing a Moose at Home," in National Magazine, complete with Burgess photos.

The climax features some actual moose-human interaction (Burgess tries the hand-feeding trick) and some celebration of good light conditions.
We boldly stood our ground while he came near enough to sniff contemptuously at some bread held out on my hand. Afterward he obliged us with every pose we could desire, so that I don’t think we claim too much in saying that we have one of the finest sets of photographs of a moose, at home in his native wilderness, ever taken. Sun, surroundings and every condition were seemingly perfect.
Thus Burgess participates in the development of a new hunting story genre--the photo adventure. And this provided a way for Burgess to incorporate the natural scene ("sun, surroundings") into the product of hunting itself.

The vogue for wildlife photography seems to have emerged in the mid 1890s. The Keartons, two British brothers, were perhaps the most celebrated in this field. I've embedded one of their books, Wild Life at Home (1899), (which clearly informs the title of Burgess's moose article.) The Keartons made wildlife photography appear like a great adventure and the book is full of the ingenious devices they created in order to get the shots they wanted.

The Keartons also, however, explicitly tout the virtues of photography over hunting.
…I speak as a man who knows well the joys of shooting the lordly grouse and circumventing the wily trout, and I unhesitatingly say that this new and bloodless form of sport beats them both in point of downright interest. To pit one’s skill and ingenuity against the shyness and cunning of a wild bird, or summon the courage and endurance to descend to its home in the face of some dizzy ocean cliff, is in itself a feat which calls for the very best hunting instincts of the human race…

Frank M. Chapman of the Museum of Natural History and publisher of Bird-Lore, was inspired by the Keartons and wrote about his own Bird Studies with a Camera (1900).

He also extends the Keartons' argument in favor of photography to make it explicitly anti-hunting.
As a onetime sportsman, who yielded to none in his enjoyment of the chase, I can affirm that there is a fascination about the hunting of wild animals with a camera as far ahead of the pleasure to be derived from their pursuit with shotgun or rifle as the sport found in shooting Quail is beyond that of breaking clay " Pigeons." Continuing the comparison, from a sportsman's standpoint, hunting with a camera is the highest development of man's inherent love of the chase.
The killing of a bird with a gun seems little short of murder after one has attempted to capture its image with a lens. The demands on the skill and patience of the bird photographer are endless, and his pleasure is intensified in proportion to the nature of the difficulties to be overcome, and in the event of success it is perpetuated by the infinitely more satisfactory results obtained. He does not rejoice over a bag of mutilated flesh and feathers, but in the possession of a trophy—an eloquent token of his prowess as a hunter, a talisman which holds the power of revivifying the circumstances attending its acquisition.
One wonders if Burgess's wildlife photo activity was an influence in turning him away from hunting once and for all.

Burgess was a keen photographer and would write a number of articles related to this interest. In his autobiography he explains that very early on in his career as a Phelps Publishing Co. office boy, the Springfield Homestead's photographer would use him to lug his camera equipment around. He would soon be taking photos himself and dispensing technical advice, as in this 1898 New England Homestead piece, focused on taking good photos for engraving.

Burgess would later use his forum at Good Housekeeping to advocate the household and recreational use of the camera. One article, in 1903, offers a personification of his camera as his "compact little comrade" and offers some insight into the extent of Burgess's outdoorsmanship:
This same camera has been with me on many another cruise on long wheeling tours, tramping across country, to many a mountain top where the climb was hard work, hunting and fishing, snowshoeing and botanizing.
It also features a little dissembling on Burgess's part in its depiction of a happy "W.B.T." household ("baby's laugh and Bobby's first pants")--Burgess's son wouldn't arrive for a few more years.

Note that Burgess can't resist talking again about his "first interview with the king of the forest."

The moose photos, finally in a prominent place in Burgess's dining room, also lead off a 1908 article about the virtue of the vacation camera.

This article is special because it provides a glimpse of Burgess's own photography, from quiet landscapes to shots of "young naturalists" to a dramatic piece of photojournalism (view from the "bowsprit"). In his future career as a dedicated nature communicator, Burgess would use his photographs in his columns and his lectures.

Tomorrow: Burgess covers the seafood beat

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