By Jacalyn Beales - Founder & Editor-in-Chief
After many months spent pondering the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on a professional piece of photography equipment, I recently took the leap and invested approximately $1,100 in a Nikon camera. The decision came after several discussions with photographers regarding their favourite cameras, late nights spent researching the best brands, and talking with professionals whose job is to help people invest in photography equipment. The consensus ran overwhelmingly in Nikon's favour, despite some touting the advantages of brands like Canon.
I dropped my Visa card on the counter of a local store which specializes in such equipment, an anticipatory smile on my face as my new Nikon was safely packed away; I'm sure many have shared that feeling of excitement one gets when you put your camera strap around your neck and take your very first shot through the lens of a professional camera. I touted my new purchase on Snapchat to friends and family members who shared their collective "ooooh's!" and congratulatory remarks with me, my anxiousness to get out into the woods and start shooting making me too giddy to sleep.
But then I received a response from a friend and fellow conservation advocate who politely informed me that Nikon supports trophy hunting.
The smile immediately fell from my face.
When looking into my latest purchase, I had naively assumed that I was investing my money in a piece of quality equipment which would allow me to take better photos, especially as regards my adventures and travels. I love being outdoors, immersed in the thick of nature, and my Moment lenses, whilst wonderfully convenient, don't quite do the trick in capturing professional shots. While I recommend them for mobile photography, my new Nikon was meant to be an invaluable purchase and will accompany me on my upcoming travels to various locales across Canada.
And I still believe that I made a good investment; it was high time I sunk some money into a professional-grade camera. But did I make the right decision based on brand? No. I had no idea that my purchase would support a brand which in turn supports trophy hunting.
My love for the outdoors is what inspired Out of Wilderness Magazine - one of the key mandates of this digital magazine and platform is to help educate readers and the public on topics pertaining to environmental and wildlife conservation. We've discussed oceans, climate change, species degradation and, coincidentally, trophy hunting. My naiveté about that topic is slim, but when purchasing a Nikon, I didn't once stop to consider whether a camera was contributing to the conservational issue that is trophy hunting.
If you Google the terms "Nikon" and "trophy hunting," your search results will yield with many articles regarding the camera brand and its involvement in trophy hunting. Nikon even has a separate website dedicated to helping hunters source the best equipment for their hunting activities, such as rifle and gun accessories. There's a Facebook group dedicated solely to encouraging people to boycott Nikon; two major news outlets have covered the controversy over the brand's encouragement of the "sport;" and many sites have stated that notable photographers have refused to use their Nikon equipment due to the brand's involvement in trophy hunting.
In other words, if you're a wildlife advocate, environmentalist, conservationist, or someone who just generally gives a s**t about wildlife and disagrees with trophy hunting, you've probably frowned upon Nikon.
Now, some may be wondering whether it's actually a "big deal" that Nikon, a camera company, supports trophy hunting by producing and providing hunters with equipment to help them take a better shot - both photographically and in terms of actually killing an animal for sport. Well, perhaps it wouldn't matter, if trophy hunting weren't responsible for the decline of keystone as well as endangered species. You've heard of wolf culls, bear culls, trophy hunting of Africa's Big Five (perhaps the most notorious trophy hunting known), the breeding of endangered species specifically for trophy hunting purposes, canned hunting, etc. I could go on, but you get the picture. Much of the arguments for trophy hunting and other hunting-related activities are steeped in rhetoric and propaganda which seeks to convince people that these activities somehow saves species, help indigenous communities, save developing countries, conserve declining species numbers, save keystone species...but that's a discussion for another time. The point here is not whether trophy hunting is "good" or "bad" but, rather, whether a brand like Nikon should be supporting it by manufacturing equipment which has a hand in perpetuating it. And, similarly, whether we should be supporting Nikon by purchasing their products.
Like other brands, Nikon could simply refuse to support the sordid trophy hunting industry by ending its affiliation with hunting and its production of hunting-related accessories. But like many a big brand, Nikon doesn't exist to make us feel better about our purchases, to help us make a positive impact, or even to protect the wilderness. They offer a product used by people who may be trophy hunters, but also by people who aren't. We can't assume, for example, that everyone who owns a Nikon is a supporter of trophy hunting; I'm certainly not. Nor is this magazine. But we also can't rely on Nikon to be transparent. We may think or believe brands have a responsibility to be transparent about their own interests, but if that were actually true, some of our most coveted brands would be likely to reveal horrifying truths about their products, how they source materials or ingredients, their use of sweatshops, etc.
Just as many of us wonder where our food comes from, how palm oil is mass produced, who makes our clothing, who has to suffer for the production of conflict ingredients and products, we too must ask what the risk involved is in using a product which helps, even in a small way, perpetuate an industry many an advocate disagrees with. Personal opinions about trophy hunting aside, there is undoubtedly something unsettling about looking down at one's camera and recognizing that our hard-earned dollars, which we've invested in the technology hanging around our necks, has been given to a brand which supports trophy hunting.
But let's not gather our torches and pitchforks, huff and puff, and try to blow Nikon's house down. It's not their fault, after all, that we choose to buy their products. It's my fault for ignorantly purchasing a Nikon without first researching whether a camera company has a hand in an industry I disagree with and refuse to support. A more productive step is to view our Nikon purchases not as a gargantuan mistake, but as a lesson learned. Maybe we'd love to return our battered up Nikon's now that we know of the brand's involvement in trophy hunting, but that wouldn't turn back time, and as many know, such equipment is expensive. We should instead look to our future purchases and, much like making conscious decisions about fair trade food or ethically-made clothing, choose to purchase photography equipment from an ethical brand instead.
What gets us out into the wilderness and encourages us to conserve it is, in part, the imagery and media we're exposed to which showcase both the trials and tribulations nature experiences, as well as its triumphs. We need this imagery for inspiration, encouragement, and knowledge. Images, if they are not totally distorted and manipulated unethically, inform us of the world in a way that words often cannot. If picking up a camera helps us educate one another on topics of the environment, our world's wilderness, and the life which inhabits it, the choice is yours regarding what brand you support through your purchases. But for this Editor, my recent Nikon purchase is my first, and last, from this brand.