This series gives a visual expression to an ideal in the context of a cultural paradox: our reverence for nature that we, nevertheless, exploit unceasingly.
I spend a lot of time in unspoilt places in Africa where animals have seemingly endless space to move with rhythm and grace. Here, they live in harmony, secure in their ancestral roots and habits. However, with the inexorable human expansion, the transformation of these pristine landscapes appears relentless. Yet, paradoxically, all cultures appear to revere such wildernesses.
In the hope that it prompts us to start thinking about this cultural contradiction, I have attempted to create a visual form for our reverence. I imagine a landscape where time is forever suspended in a dreamlike way and where wild animals live in tranquility. And so, to start a conversation, I invite you to walk – accompanied by kids if you like - with the animals in their ethereal space, feel a lyrical moment, and participate in a heavenly experience.
Watching elephant groups in Amboseli National Park in Kenya, I got fascinated by their cohesion and co-operation. It reminded me of a quote attributed to Henri Poincare, the polymath: it is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance: in a word, it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the detail.
So, I set out to conjure up photographs that might prompt the viewer to reflect on the natural notions of unity and harmony.
Fascinated by our primate relatives in general and chimpanzees in particular, we – a husband and wife team of photographers – spent a year spread over six years with the wild chimpanzees of Gombe Forest, Tanzania. Initially, we spent time to get to know these wild beings who also have recorded personal histories. Being chimpanzees and therefore curious, they also got to recognize us and to know us.
These chimpanzees appeared to resemble us humans, both externally and internally. The unfamiliar looked familiar. The more we got to know their personalities, the deeper our identity crisis seemed to become. We also felt connected to something ancient, without knowing what that was. That connection is a very profound thing: perhaps some great secret that we have mislaid but which might be revealed in their glances.
Then, with these personalities sitting relaxed and comfortable with us, we looked for that purity when photographing their portraits, something that felt authentic and absolutely true. We posed a query: what is revealed when we look into each other’s eyes? Then we waited respectfully for an exchange of glances to answer it. However, looking at their faces, I felt an eerie sensation as a thought nagged me: had the tables been turned? Who was posing the question?
I live in the wild for long stretches of time. Inevitably, I fall under the spell of wild animals. It dawns on me that these are intelligent, emotional, social and personable beings. I connect with their sentience.
To communicate this, I opted for a work of portraiture. Fortunately, for my purposes, wild animals care nothing about keeping up appearances. So, I waited and waited to capture a natural expression or a revealing gesture rendered in an instant. Something spontaneous. For this is where, I think, the truth of a mind lies.
A few years ago, on the open plains of Maasai Mara, I was in the midst of elephants and within touching distance of a couple of them. I felt a primeval sense of being, a connection to a distant past. I wondered if I could translate that feeling into photographs.
I opted for an approach that is immediate, intimate, immersive, inclusive and involving but which also gives a feeling of space. I wanted to impart to the viewer what it feels like – mentally and physically – to be inside the vast and lively landscape of Maasai Mara, being among wild animals. In this way, I hope the viewer can open up to Mara and its animals – feel the earth, smell the wind, and touch the elephant’s wrinkled skin. Then, perhaps, the viewer might connect with The Mara and extend sympathy to this natural world.