For over two decades, legendary British photographer David Yarrow has been putting himself in harm’s way to capture some of the world’s most revered and endangered animal species. With his images heightening awareness of endangered species and also raising huge sums for charity and conservation, he is one of the most relevant photographers in the world today. Yarrow offers a balanced retrospective between his spectacular work in the wild and his staged storytelling work that has earned him wide acclaim in the fine art market. Whether it be in the wilds of Alaska or an old saloon bar in Montana, the danger is laced through every photograph – Yarrow has been held at gunpoint in South Sudan, waded through the crocodile-infested Nile, and had to remember the advice of “if you run, you’ll die.” Yarrow uses remote control cameras and enticements to bring polar bears, lions, and tigers to his camera for face-to-face confrontations. Every image is the result of hours of logistical preparation and deep psychological knowledge of his subjects. His love of Africa is evident, and he has donated over $1 million towards conservation.
The current crisis due to COVID-19 has seen Kenya close its borders and all international passenger flights into the country have ceased, resulting in a halt to Africa’s critical tourism industry virtually overnight. The cessation of tourism and global economic fall-out is not only leading to large-scale job losses across Kenya but also wildlife conservancies, such as Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, are experiencing an immediate and massive drop in tourism revenue which supports wildlife conservation and vital community programmes. We asked David to tell us, as an artist used to travelling the world, how he feels about these challenging times and what was foremost on his mind:
A MESSAGE FROM DAVID YARROW
“I used to keep a finely tuned diary and knew where I would be every day for the next four or five months. Yet today, I have no plans for the next four or five months. This situation is the same for hundreds of millions of people across the world.
It is a time to stay safe and take stock. As an artist, this is an opportunity to rejuvenate and spend time with the family. When I am away, my opportunity cost is the family and they are the oxygen that gives me creative courage and confidence. Without that supply, I am not well equipped to do what I do.
I hope this will be the last time in my life that I am unable to work for a long period of time and if it is, I must make the most of this period and adapt and find good in a bad situation. And there is indeed so much good to find.
I am a storyteller who makes pictures rather than necessarily takes them, and this hints at desk-based research and finding prompts from the works of others and indeed the prompts of everyday life. There is no shame in this; after all, Ansel Adams, America’s greatest photographer wrote: ‘You don’t take a photograph with a camera; you bring to the art of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard and the people you have loved.’ What he was instructing us was that photography is about the soul, not the camera, and this is a time for nurturing the soul and forgetting about the camera. Its time will come again.
When I think of the works of others right now, I think of Peter Beard, an iconic artist, who has sadly just passed away. His work in Kenya has always inspired me because he was so much more than a photographer of wildlife. He collaborated as well as anyone on the ground and those partnerships allowed his work to transcend.
Kenya is much in my thoughts, as it has lost its tourist income and with it a huge source of support for organisations such as the Kenya Wildlife Service, who are on the front line in conservation. For those that care about conservation and can afford to go to Kenya, they must please return at the earliest available opportunity.
I don’t know what I am doing for the next four or five months, but what I do know is that the first time I can fly to Kenya, I will. I feel a calling.”
– David Yarrow