Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Chris and Monique 2021 reflections
Those on Chris's mailing list will have seen this but we are very happy to share , his wise words and visions for a better world.
History is full of art celebrating the physical and spiritual beauty of humanity yet traditionally, wildlife has remained a relatively obscure artistic genre with a mainly illustrative or reference-based approach. Throughout millennia we have shared an intrinsic link with wildlife that has inspired us in so many ways, from the very first cave paintings of thousands of years ago until the present day, when high-performance cars and sports teams are named after iconic animals or promenade documentary channels dedicate entire weeks to televising programs on sharks and other powerful species. Even so, wildlife has remained a relatively obscure artistic genre, limited mainly to illustrative or reference-based approach. It is only recently that we have seen wildlife - and wildlife photography in particular - becoming increasingly recognized in any significant way as an art form and, not surprisingly, there is now an ever-growing interest. In this regard I would like to thank Artist’s such as David Yarrow and Nick Brandt who have been the forerunners and really changed the way people see wildlife photography and art. David in particular has been incredibly supportive of my work and I would like to thank him for this support. Whilst neither work in the marine environment their terrestrial work has been an inspiration in terms of showing that wildlife photography can indeed be an art form that has beauty, dimension and meaning. Being passionately committed to an art form, sport or entrepreneurial pursuit is what makes you successful at it. Fine Art wildlife photography is my niche and when I go into the field I do so with the premise of creating very specific looking art works. You learn the nuances and you evolve through your craft, you are driven each day by your passion to hopefully reach the pinnacle, and above all, you have focus. You know what is rare and truly exceptional. Over time you realise it is a journey both as an artist and as a person, and your lens becomes an ambassador for those who cannot speak for themselves but whose visage is worth a thousand words. In the past few months it has been humbling to see not only the significant and growing interest in our work, but more importantly the emotional connection people have with the works and the stories behind them. I truly get the sense from the views expressed that, whilst many people in large urban environments have lost their connection with nature and the wild, it is not something they have chosen to abandon, and deep inside there is a profound connection waiting to be reignited.
I appreciate this and it affords me a great opportunity as I place a huge emphasis on not just capturing a photograph of an iconic wildlife species, or behavior, but rather conceptualizing ways in which I can render the scene before me into an artistically and emotionally engaging artwork. My goal is to create an intimate connection that requires time, planning and trust with the fastest, strongest and largest living creatures on our planet. One way I attempt to achieve this is to capture the photograph looking up to my subjects, rather than down on them. What I see before me in the form of these icons of our planet is the manifestation of millions of years in the making that is beyond remarkable. How can I not but admire that? Brilliant minds can create a car that reaches 400kmph, an airplane that is supersonic, or a building that reaches through the clouds. They are all amazing feats of engineering but they do not breath life, they essentially are all products of our making and do not co-exist in a complicated and beautiful tapestry of life. So often I have heard people say, “Wow, what a lucky shot,” and I know they mean no offence by it, and they may even be right. I am, however, firmly of the belief that luck often finds a home where preparation and planning collide. Each iconic species, individual or location that I choose is carefully selected. It is usually just Monique and I, and if we do use guides, we choose those who understand not only my needs but also understand and can anticipate wildlife behavior. I choose to work only with completely wild animals and, as such, significant amounts of time, in some cases even decades, goes into capturing a single work that is conceptualized long before I leave on an expedition. Several key elements such as dust, clouds, aesthetically moody or engaging backgrounds and the anticipated posture and behavior of the subjects themselves are just a few of the components I look for in order to transform what would otherwise be simply a portrait photograph into an engaging art form. I choose to travel to certain specific locations knowing what my backgrounds will be, I choose to go at certain times of the year when I know what clouds, dust or moody atmospherics might be prevalent. I also am at pains to find actual icons that embody either the greatest of a species or showcase incredible behavior, and then my job is to capture this in an exceptional way. So, whilst I cannot ask my subjects to stand in a particular way, or create colors and mood on a canvas with brush strokes, I can, through careful planning, experience and a certain style of shooting, effectively achieve similar artistic results. This in effect takes a wildlife photograph into the realm of what is often perceived as a painting or more conventional art form, albeit with a significantly greater reliance on chance. The past few months have really seen these artistic values resonating with our audiences as individuals and corporates alike increasingly view our work as a collectable art form which both engenders pleasure and meaning , whilst also contributing to change. Exhibitions and Corporate Events In October we had the opportunity to exhibit at the Saatchi Gallery in London as part of The StART Art Fair. Here, we were able to showcase new and premium works ranging from a 4-meter-wide light box of our most recently-launched work, Leviathan, which celebrates the huge fluke of an approaching Humpback whale, to Defiance, which embodies the strength of a magnificent Matriarch in a herd of elephants determinedly approaching to within a few feet from my camera. Defiance - October 2021
During the five days of the event we had well over 5000 people through the exhibition, where the emotional response to our work was overwhelming. There was also significant press exposure with various newspapers and media networks running editorials on our collection, including CNN. Whilst unashamedly our objective is to sell our limited edition artwork in order to purchase land in Southern Africa for habitat preservation, equally important to us is the message that our work embodies. The fundamental component of The 11th Hour Exhibition is to visually showcase some of what we have lost on this planet, but at the same time to recognize that there is still much worth fighting for, and these contradictions are elucidated on in equal measure. With this in mind we were proud to have partnered with Weatherbys Private Bank for a fantastic evening hosted at The Arx Gallery in Knightsbridge, London where several of our works are currently on exhibition. Weatherbys have identified sustainability and social responsibility as core objectives, and through their CEO, Roger Weatherby, have a commitment to making investment decisions that take these values into account. The Arx Gallery - Brompton Court - London At this event I had the opportunity of delivering a visual presentation on the 10-meter-wide Samsung Wall, arguably the world’s highest resolution super screen. It was an emotional presentation for me as seeing several of my subjects, most notably the breaching great white sharks of False Bay in South Africa, and some of the fallen great elephant tuskers of Africa being represented in incredible resolution at life size, brought back many memories of when I knew these wonderful creatures alive and in the flesh. Undoubtedly the stories I told of a life photographing and working alongside these most incredible creatures resonated with this educated and informed audience, and the message of a need to live alongside and not conquer, was well received. Weatherbys Private Bank event - London - October 2021 It is becoming evident that clients are not just interested in our work as collectable art pieces, but more importantly because they want aesthetically engaging pieces in their homes or offices that have meaning. In this regard it has been gratifying and humbling to have several repeat clients purchase new artworks. From an investment point of view several of our works - most notably The Fig and Elephant, Air Jaws and The Pearl - have all moved up into the next pricing tier, representing a significant return for early investors. As these works continue to advance towards the end of their limited edition of just 12, so the returns rapidly escalate. We have no doubt that Leviathan, The Final Act, Defiance and Warrior will all be soon moving into the next bracket and for the first time one of our works sold for £25,000 which is so incredibly humbling, but importantly enables us to really accelerate our conservation ambitions. Considering that for all intents and purposes we have only showcased our work in London to date due to the complications of Covid, we are extremely positive that as we launch into other markets, we will be able to accelerate even faster. It is one of the greatest rewards and privileges of a life working in the wild to be tolerated close to one of the living icons left on our planet. Quite simply, without nonchalance or bravado, I have long since realized that if you spend time with your subjects, allow them to choose to come to you and move in non-threatening or unprovocative ways, pretty much all species on this planet allow you in close quarters with them. When one considers how so many documentaries and individuals are at pains to stress the dangers involved in working with wildlife at close quarters, and unquestionably these animals are all capable of acts of defense and aggression, I have over a lifetime of many intimate encounters with all kinds of predators and others, experienced the exact opposite. It was therefore especially rewarding that people were moved by the authentic and un-embellished stories behind each work, that for the most part, engendered their gentler dispositions and needed no sensationalism. The subjects themselves are special enough just as they are. We would like to thank everyone who attended and supported the various events over the past couple of months, it was wonderful meeting and speaking with so many of you. Charitable Support and our Legacy Effort We are delighted that through donations of our work we have helped to raise significant amounts for charity over the last two months. Brotherhood was auctioned for £15,000 in support of Mellon Educate, a foundation with an education development program in South Africa, and $4,000 was raised through the auction of The Final Act for WildAid. We are proud to have been able to support both of these foundations that do such important and meaningful work. As part of our legacy effort, the majority of profits from the sale of our art works go towards the purchasing of land in Southern Africa for habitat restoration and preservation. We are thus thrilled to share the news that we are in the process of proclaiming our first nature reserve. Lying on the banks of the Breede river, roughly 100km East of the southern tip of Africa is an incredibly special stretch of land that is home to no less than 5 botanical biomes. This includes Renosterveld which is listed amongst the world’s most critically endangered with less than 3% of the original extent remaining. With this in mind we have purchased a small farm in the area and have together with two other like-minded landowners, amalgamated our properties into an area roughly 1300Ha (roughly 3200 acres) in extent to preserve, rehabilitate and conserve this very special area to be known as the Lower Potteberg Nature Reserve. Now the real work begins where our most important initial project will be to eradicate alien vegetation and restore habitat. This is the first nature reserve we have used our Fine Art funds to help proclaim and rehabilitate, and we will be making similar purchases in the future in Southern Africa to continue our vision to protect biodiversity for the future. A herd of eland browse in critically endangered Renosterveld in the newly proclaimed Lower Potteberg Nature reserve Recent Photographic Expeditions Our wildlife travels over the past few months have included visits to East Africa for elephants, and more recently to Zimbabwe for buffalo. Both were extreme trips, the former seeing us wild camp with the Masai, living like they do and appreciating their simple, nomadic and often tough life. The trials of their existence were quickly laid bare as Monique and I each got bitten over 200 times by pepper ticks and came down with a violent fever, although fortunately this was not linked to Limes disease which obviously was of concern. The Masai handled the diaspora of disease and pestilence with equal measure of inconsequence. The elephant activity however, more than made up for these trivialities and together with our Masai friends we had an incredible experience coming away with a few memorable images, most notably our work called Defiance. Zimbabwe during October is known as suicide month. And if October is suicide month, then November is for all those who failed, to try again. Daily temperatures exceed 40 C every day and some nights do not see the mercury falling below 35C. In a small ground tent with no fridge, lions delighting in seeing who can sleep the closest to the tent, and a plethora of fly species that bite, equates to a setting not fit for the first time camper or faint of heart. If by day it was uncomfortable, by night it was simply full on taking the word “wild” to a whole new level. The bush sounds at night were more intense than anything we have experienced in our many years spent camping in the world’s wildest places. Elephants chasing marauding lions whilst trumpeting at full volume as they tried to kill them in a narrow gorge; lions in turn hunting their calves; lions stampeding buffalo, then subduing and strangling them; and even lions killing a vagrant male lion after a 90 minute tortuous battle were just some of the chaos taking place just 80 from our tent where we lay rigid and motionless. In fact, the lions were often so close that I would only adjust my position on our sweat saturated sleeping mats every fifteen minutes or so when they were all roaring around us, and when I knew they were otherwise occupied. It was at these times I felt more insignificant than I can remember. Whilst there are far more luxurious options, it is these raw, uncomplicated and uncontrived experiences that we most appreciate and most profoundly connect us to our subjects.
Amenities aside, we were there for incredible buffalo action. Due to the limited water sources, soaring temperatures and a 25 strong lion pride commanding the only available water source, this made for dramatic scenes of gladiatorial battles as the buffalo in their many hundreds would be forced to stampede down steep gorges to reach the life giving water. This in turn created artistic photographic opportunities with moody dust being pierced by sharp horns and a seething mass of glistening bodies appearing ghost-like in the smoldering aftermath of the herd’s rampage. The sight and sounds of this dramatic action were quite simply incredible. First you heard the bellowing of these one ton giants, then the lead animal, which was often a brave female, would tentatively lead the herd to the precipice of the gorge. Finally, upon her being comfortable, the whole massive herd would charge. With a bomb-like dust cloud and the rumbling of thousands of feet, the herd would plunge into the literally and figuratively boiling cauldron. The Bull Run - November 2021 Lying at ground level photographing this scene was incredible and each moment I am not there makes me yearn to return. I could not move a muscle as lying just 20m away from the herd, any movement could trigger a stampede meaning these huge animals miss out on a vital drink or alternatively, although unlikely, may mean a charge at me. Motionless you cannot stop the flies that constantly and painfully bite you, you cannot wipe away the torrent of sunscreen infused sweat that drips off your brow, burning your eyes, and you cannot adjust to stop the feces that you are lying in from soaking through your clothes. Quite simply it is self-inflicted torture. But it is a wonderful torture and writing this I can’t wait to do it all over again as the sight and moment of stampede towards the lens is so intoxicating, and the relief when that final buffalo slakes its thirst and returns from whence it came without being disturbed, so rewarding. To me this is what Africa is all about. It is pure survival, it is raw, harsh and unrelenting. To capture the works I strive towards, I feel it is important to endure what my subjects do so that in some small way I properly understand their story. These are the Bad Lands where nature’s ultimate warriors and survivors engage in a paux de deux of death like no other.
A Natural Selection - November 2021 2022 2022 holds much promise and potential, with expeditions to photograph mega pods of whales, black-manned lions in the Kalahari, great white sharks in South Africa and Mexico, striped marlin in Mexico, orcas in Norway and the amazing elephants of various locations in Africa being greatly anticipated. In closing I would just like to say a huge thank you to my team comprising of my wonderful wife, Monique, Damon, Chloë and Joy, as well as the numerous other people and organizations who have supported us and made this a year of continued growth.
In closing we'd like to extend a big thanks to The StART Art Team, The Lux Art Team, Weatherbys Private Bank, Canon and various other friends and individuals who have been so supportive in 2021. As always I would also like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the rangers, guides and NGO’s doing so much to protect and conserve what is left in the wild. Wishing everyone a healthy, happy and successful 2022. We look forward to seeing many of you again and look forward to launching our work to the US market after what has been a very successful time spent building the brand and exhibiting in London. Best wishes Chris & Monique