Photography News Issue 36

Photography News | Issue 36 |




of a lifetime aboard the most remote vessel on earth. We then made two expeditions to Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea to visit an emperor penguin breeding colony. Temperatures were -20°C but the sight of the emperor penguin chicks was worth the hardship. Did you always intend to write an autobiography? When did you know the time was right? No. I knew that I wanted to write an autobiography as I began to feel I had fulfilled many of my life’s ambitions – to live and work in Africa among the stunning array of wild creatures you can still find in Mara- Serengeti; to have stayed true to my dream of spending a lifetime following my passion for watching, photographing and writing about wild creatures in their natural habitat; to have visited Antarctica, met my wife Angie and been a father to Alia and David; to have worked on shows like Big Cat Diary (1996- 2008) that mirrored the life that Angie and I live on safari. And to share with people, particularly younger people who might dream of living a life like I have experienced, my frailties and weaknesses as well as my strengths, to let people see that anyone can carve out a life for themselves following their bliss. They just have to believe, to conquer their fears and to be determined to not give up just because someone tells them they cannot succeed in their quest. You owe it to yourself to take charge of your life; own it and make it the path you want to follow. Can you talk us through the process of writing an autobiography? When did you begin writing? I began writing my story a couple of years ago in 2014. I decided to write the story I wanted to have published before I had found a publisher. Angie and I have written 30 books now between us (my first was A Souvenir Guide to African Birds in 1981)). The problem with getting someone to publish my book was that it was more than just a story about a bloke with an obsession for big cats. I wanted to blend elements of my early life growing up on a farm in Berkshire. Losing my dad when I was two years old (he died of an inoperable brain tumour at 42) had a huge impact on my life. I was convinced that I was going to die young and ended up in an insane race to outlive my dad. I love communicating – talking – and so I tend to write how I talk. The big thing of course is to know your subject and knowwhat you are talking about. I studied zoology at university and was always mad about wildlife and read everything I could find on African wildlife and animal behaviour. I learned a lot from working on my first big book The Marsh Lions (1982) with Brian Jackman (the wildlife

and travel correspondent for The Sunday Times for many years). Brian introduced me to the basics – have a beginning, middle and end – and helped temper my thirst to include lots of animal behaviour wedged between my narrative thread – an indigestible mix unless you blend and simplify to make everything flow. In time I became a storyteller and that worked well for my role as a TV presenter, especially for live TV and shows like the Big Cat Diaries, Chimpanzee Diaries, Elephant Diaries, Big Bear Diary that I worked on. It quickly became apparent that potential publishers were concerned that my story was going to fall between two stools – part wildlife memoir, part personal narrative touching on religion, science and nervous illness. Which shelf in a book shop would it fit on? Fortunately Bradt saw the potential and with support from Canon Europe we were able to fashion a handsome book with my pen and ink illustrations (some that Angie worked on) and our photographs to bring the text to life. How did you decide what images to use within the book? We wanted a mix of family archive and strong wildlife images – and to have some images that illustrated photographic techniques discussed in the Photographer’s Note at the back of the book. Fortunately we are also publishing a big photographic portfolio with many of Angie’s most stunning images and a sumptuous design concept by our son David, called Sacred Nature: Life’s Eternal Dance . What have been the highlights of your photographic journey? Angie and I are hugely proud to be Canon Ambassadors and SanDisk Extreme Team members. But the icing on the cake was when Angie won the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2002, making us the only couple to have both won the Overall Award in the competition as individuals. And our son has won awards in the competition too. In terms of images – my favourite big cat is the leopard and Angie loves lions. AndAntarctica is a photographers paradise just like the Mara-Serengeti. Have there been any downsides? Any dangerous encounters? No downsides, except that life is too short. There’s so much to read and engage with and to experience, sights to see and images to take, family life to share. If there is anything I have learned after 40 years of living in the bush it is that incaution and bravado are the cause of most people’s dangerous encounters with big game (unless you are firing bullets at them and then you only have yourself to blame). The biggest thing to beware of is complacency – get too close on foot to an elephant cow with young calf


Top “Zawadi the leopard and her three-month-old daughter Safi at sunrise on the dawning of the newmillennium. We followed Zawadi throughout her long life – 16 years.” Top right “I have been watching the Marsh Pride of lions since 1977. Angie and I know some of these big cats better than our human friends.” Above “Enjoying showing novice monks in Bhutan our wildlife images fromAfrica. We host safaris around the world from India to Antarctica.”

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