I can trace my love of nature all the way back to the summer of 1986, when my primary school teacher lead our class on a wildlife trail in the woods above Patcham railway tunnel. I loved the pitter patter of raindrops on freshly opened beech leaves; birdsong and caterpillars taking shelter. It was the first time I enjoyed being so wet. Late into the night, I would pore over hand-me-down Ladybird books, detailing the natural history of butterflies and woodland birds. I was a frequent visitor to the Booth Museum of Natural History, with its collection of butterflies, fossils and animal skeletons. I was later to deprive the city of library books by wildlife photographers Stephen Dalton and Niall Benvie by renewing them for months at an end. In the days when nature documentaries were about nature and not their celebrity presenters, the gentle voiceovers of David Attenborough and Andrew Sachs sat in perfect harmony with the visual narrative. As an adult, getting close to wild animals means watching nature documentaries is no longer necessary. My life is a nature documentary! I don't know any other person who has been so close to a Roe deer, that they could hear the animal chewing and burping.
I don't have to travel far from my home town of Brighton to see wildlife. The city itself hosts giant starling murmurations, which gather over Brighton Pier every afternoon in winter. Roe deer can be seen on the South Downs and Fallow deer roam forests on the High Weald.
All of my photos are of wild animals living freely. You won't find any images from deer parks, game farms, reflection pools and commercial bait stations here. Photographing baited wild animals transforms the natural world into just another resource, to be exploited by marketing characters, who pay to further their 'brand' in a commercial and/or social setting. Under neo-liberal capitalism, wildlife has become yet another privatised commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. Customers can, for example, pay to photograph kingfishers diving into a baited tank of fish or book sessions photographing wild creatures enticed to move around in artificially created settings. There is no fieldwork or subject knowledge going on in this type of inauthentic setting, just rows of white middle class people sitting down, pressing buttons. A major issue is the technical quality of simulated wildlife photography is so high, that it has raised the benchmark of acceptability. Genuine wildlife photographers cannot compete, as everyone now demands better and better shots based on the unnaturally high standards they've seen before. But there is so much more to wildlife photography than photographic skill. The holistic experience of being alone in the forest and accepting uncertainty feels much more authentic than the idea of turning up at Richmond Park and taking bags of photos without either the deer or photographer breaking sweat. If I go home at the end of the day empty handed, tough. That's the way it's meant to be. No-one is entitled to photographs of wild animals.