I have been photographing wildlife in sub-Saharan Africa since the year 2000. Much has changed in the photographic world since then due to the relentless rise in the use of digital technology. It is no longer possible to sell photographic images at a decent margin and the wildlife stock-photography market is saturated with good (sometimes great) images.
I have created several thousand technically proficient images over the years which sit on various portable hard drives stashed in off-site locations where they are fussed over by a harassed (and broke) photographer.
What did I take these photos for? I seldom print anything (fun fact about most photographers); I am too lazy and too insecure to enter competitions (fun fact number 2); and my most ardent and unreasonable critic is myself (fun fact number 3).
Out in the field with some of the most well-known South African wildlife photographers, I was taught the standard view as to what a ‘good’ wildlife image looks like – a combination of technical and compositional guidelines for prescribing excellence. However, I tend to be less interested in the technical imperatives of photography and more interested in the animal itself – its essence, if you will. I like stripping away colours and backgrounds to focus solely on the beast – its power and dignity.
This evolving interest of mine has meant that, increasingly, my images show these wild animals as part of their beautiful habitat, their ecosystem. In this way, my Signature Series explores ecology – how animals are an integral part of the landscape. I’ve attempted to express how the animal complements, and is part of, the scene rather than how it might dominate or even transcend it.
I’d like to say a few more things on interpretation and expression. There has never been an undisputed definition of fine art, and only a general consensus that a fine art photographic image is carefully composed and technically proficient. Art evokes feelings and moods which we then reflect on, rationalise and interpret. How might one ‘interpret’ a wildlife image? Is taking photographs of wildlife more than just documentary photography?
I don’t think I’m qualified to speak authoritatively on these matters. But I can say that there is nothing purely documentary about my images – they have all been edited, enhanced and, in some cases, are composites. As a consequence, I don’t present them as wildlife images but, rather, as Wildlife Digital Fine Art. I want to show the world the beauty of the African bush and, in order to succeed in this mission, I sometimes present an altered reality, perhaps even a hyper reality.
It is nevertheless important to stress that I take great pains to ensure the images remain believable, with real places and authentic animal behaviour as their foundation, and can guarantee that I photographed every image and their components.
Ultimately, all my photographs – and these images in particular – are the product as well as the expression of the profound emotions and contemplative thoughts that the African bush conjures from inside me.
Andrew Chislett LRPS