Photography News Issue 36

Photography News | Issue 36 |


Interview The Big Cat Man Jonathan Scott is an internationally renowned wildlife photographer and award-winning author based in Kenya. With years of experience Jonathan has just released his autobiography The Big Cat Man so we decided to find out more about the man and his latest venture…

Without tourism these wild places would disappear in the face of the burgeoning human population Left “One of Honey’s boys – three cheetah brothers – staring down his reflection.” Below Emperor penguin chicks, Snow Hill Island, Weddell Sea, Antarctica


the 1966 film Born Free and in the popular TV series On Safari with Armand and Michaela Denis careering around in an open jeep having all kinds of adventures among large charismatic animals. I was hooked and at the end of the trip sold my onward boat ticket from Cape Town to Sydney in Australia and have been in Africa ever since and living in Kenya since 1977. What are the challenges living there? How has it changed while you have lived there? I love living on the edge – I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie and at school loved boxing and played rugby. Africa has a bit of the Wild West to it, and living on safari as Angie, my wife, and I have done for so many years is the ultimate adventure – camping outside or in a roof tent. When I was working in the Serengeti writing books on the great migration and wild dogs I had permission to live in my 4x4 vehicle and to travel off-road. Bliss. It allowed me to become one of the pack and to follow the migration of wildebeest and zebras on their journey around the Mara-Serengeti in their perpetual search for green grass and water. Balanced against the adventure is the insecurity in places like Nairobi. It is not so much the threat of terrorism which is something the whole world is facing. Rather, it is trying to ensure you stay safe in the city.

But we accept that as the trade-off for the wonders of Africa. And the Kenyan people are some of the warmest and friendliest people on earth. Visitors come to Kenya for the beach and safari and go away saying how great the people experience was. It is a great country. Forty years ago there were fewer people living in Nairobi – four million today. And far fewer people visiting places like the Maasai Mara then. But we need tourism. It helps to pay for our wonderful parks and game reserves and keep them safe. Without tourism these wild places would disappear in the face of the burgeoning human population and its hunger for land. Swopping continents, what is the appeal of the Antarctic? Angie and I could have stuck with being wildlife photographers and spent our whole life photographing in East Africa – we also love Botswana and Namibia – with the Mara- Serengeti the focus of our work (and it still is). But in 1991 I had the chance to visit Antarctica, somewhere I had always been fascinated by – with a name like Scott how could I not be interested (though Scott of the Antarctic was not a relative). That trip changed my life and the following year I returned with Angie and visited South Georgia as well as the Antarctic Peninsula. South Georgia is the Serengeti of the Southern Ocean – there are far fewer

species of animals and birds, but they occur in staggering numbers. There are millions of penguins and millions of fur seals, for instance. For most of the next 20 years Angie and I returned to the frozen south each year as guest lecturers on various expedition vessels – our favourite was the Lindblad Explorer or the Little Red Ship, as she was always fondly known. She was later owned and managed by Abercrombie and Kent before eventually having her own ‘Titanic moment’ in the South Orkneys where she hit some ice and floundered. All the passengers escaped in the lifeboats and were fortunately picked up within a few hours. Antarctica is simply beyond reality with a mix of colours and an abundance of wildlife that continues to enthral us: blues, greens and whites in a landscape that is stark and rugged and minimalistic. Antarctica is a landscape of the soul just as much as it is a physical entity. No wonder the explorers of old returned again and again despite the privation and suffering they endured. It beguiles and seduces. Our most memorable trips were on the Kapitan Khlebnikov a Russian icebreaker fitted out with two helicopters to help navigate the ice. We did a semi-circumnavigation from Ushuaia to Christchurch in New Zealand that lasted a month. We visited Scott’s Hut and Shackleton’s Hut on Ross Island, saw our first emperor penguins and had an adventure

Interview by Jemma Dodd

Can you tell us about your background and what sparked your interest in photography? I was born in London and brought up on a farm in Berkshire. I always loved to draw and was passionate about natural history – watched all the wildlife shows on TV and subscribed to Animals magazine. My first book – I saved up my pocket money to buy it – was Peter Scott’s Wildfowl of the British Isles . He was an artist and passionate about wildlife just like my father, who was an architect and talented artist and sculptor. I started taking photographs at school and joined The Camera Club and bought my first real camera, a Canon EF, for my overland trip through Africa in 1974. That was the real starting point on my journey to becoming a photographer. Why did you choose to live in Kenya? On my overland journey I realised that the Africa I had fallen in love with as a child growing up in England was East Africa. It has those spectacular savannah grasslands stippled with flat-topped acacia trees and desert dates, home of the big cats that have always been my obsession. We visited the Maasai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania during that overland journey and I found myself entering the world I had seen in

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