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Outdoor photographs reality or deception?

By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
May 24, 2002
There they are, posing in glowing colors on the pages of outdoor magazines. Groomed anglers holding up huge bass dripping lake water from their tails in droplets sparkling like diamonds; their starched shirts ablaze in a flower bed of brilliant sponsor patches. The scene is kaleidoscopic!
Hunters hover over fallen elk barely wrinkling the creases in the legs of their canvas safari pants and smiling broadly from beneath the brims of un-smudged felt cowboy hats.
Campers hold shining pans of scrambled eggs and perfectly aligned bacon slices over campfires that don't smoke and don't smudge the pans.
Who are these people? When I pull a bass from the lake, it will likely have a slimy string of moss draped over its head and almost certainly won't be of a size to warrant a photograph. My line will usually be tangled around my tennis shoes – the ones that look like they have been soaked in used motor oil. The only patches on my shirt will cover holes torn by barbed wire fences or briar vines.
My photo albums show me posing with big game animals in clothes that survived my wife's attempts to throw them out last century. I am holding up antlered heads with grimy hands, smudged with everything from tree sap to plain dirt and with nails broken from clinging to rimrock ledges during the stalk. Strings of sweaty hair hang at odd angles beneath crumpled fedoras and baseball caps.
Smoky Campfires
Photos I have made of cherished campfires show billowing smoke and blackened pans. Coffee pots sit helplessly engulfed in flames and smoke, requiring serious search and rescue efforts to salvage a cup of coffee.
So who are these people on the slick pages of outdoor magazines? They are fakes, that's who/what! We are talking not only posed shots, which is okay because photographers need to make a living too. But the bulk of them must surely be computer enhanced, air brushed, transposed etc., etc. Kevin VanDam did not catch that lunker bass in the starched and ironed shirt he is posing in. Jim Zumbo, grinning over a bull elk, changed his floppy baseball cap for that immaculate black Stetson that he must carry along in a box strapped to a pack horse.
I wonder too if some of the photos are doctored by cutting out the faces of the real posing models and inserting the heads of the desired sportsmen. They all just look too clean.
Look, it is hot out on the lake and one sweats. Clothes go limp and hair stings down your face and frizzles up in every direction. Fish slime gets on everything, certainly your shirt and pants.
When you finally get that bull elk on the tenth day of a hunt, you are worn out and it shows in a photograph. No one I know shaves on an elk hunt, yet how many shots do you see in the magazines of hunters with a ten day growth splotched with leaf fragments and elk blood? And that arrogant smile? A real elk hunter's smile projects as much relief as anything else.
Self Doubt
If anyone wants to try to convince me you can fish for eight hours and look like you just came from makeup or crawl over mountains for ten days and look like a catalog model I will at least listen. I am open minded here, because I have a friend who wears creased pants and high collar shirts when fishing with me, and my photos of us show him looking pretty good after a long day bassing.
My friend looks sharp after days in the deer woods too. I always thought he was just strange, but I must admit he usually catches or bags just as much as I do. And there he is in the photograph, looking dapper standing beside me in my crumpled hat and baggy pants.
And I admit I have witnessed women anglers by the dozens fish tournaments day after day in blazing sun and come to the weigh-ins looking like movie stars – ear rings, lipstick and all, and with every curl in place. Until now I figured it was just because they were women – you know, neater and all.
I guess these thoughts have raised a little self doubt. You don't suppose I too could look neat at the end of my days outdoors. Could it be just me and those of like failings?
Well, maybe so. But I'm not ready just yet to wear a starched shirt fishing or a new Stetson hunting and worry about mussing them. It ain't me.

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