Cows and cameras …
Cows have taught me a lot about photography.
In fact, out of all the thumbless creatures on this planet, they’re perhaps the subjects that reveals most about the photographer.
In other words, if you want to know what a photographer is like with people, send them to photograph anything that goes “moo”.
Cows are better judges of character than most humans. As you approach, they calmly stop chewing their feed and look at you, observe you, consider you, then respond to you.
It’s as simple as this: If you’re likeable, they’ll stay. If you’re aggressive, agitated, rushed, nervous, loud, irratable, or, worst of all, insincere, they’ll stand up and move away.
They don’t pass judgement. They don’t scorn or look down their noses. They just decide, then and there, whether or not you are the kind of person they want to be around.
Early on as a newspaper photographer, I wasn’t the kind of person cows liked. Rushed between photo jobs, erratic and stressed about hitting deadline, cows took one look at me and literally grabbed their calves and bolted to the other end of the paddock.
For a while, I dreaded illustrating farm stories. I was terrified I couldn’t deliver the shots.
And the cows could smell my fear.
So I asked for help from a farmer.
“Mate, I grew up on the beach. The only cows I saw as a kid were on the sides of milk cartons. What should I do?”
After he stopped laughing at me (which took a while), he told me just to be honest.
“I am,” I replied. “I’m telling you, aren’t I?”
“Don’t tell me. Tell the cows,” he said.
So I shrugged and talked to his cows. “Hey ladies. I’m Ben and I’m scared you’re going to run away. Could I take your photo please?” I took a deep breath and waited.
The cows stopped chewing and looked at me. Stared at me. But for once, none of them moved.
I lifted the camera and clicked the shutter.
“See –” said the farmer, a bit smugly.
I talked to that herd of cows for about half-an-hour after that, snapping pictures of the farmer and his animals. I don’t remember what I told them, but I’ve never forgotten what I learned that day.
And I still talk to cows to this day.