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Andy Rouse's Vanishing Worlds exhibition

Martin Jordan got to meet award-winning wildlife photographer Andy Rouse.

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When I received my invite to the exhibition, Vanishing Worlds, I saw the names Nikon, National Geographic and Andy Rouse, and I thought Wow! All these names are associated with excellence. This should be a great bash!

The three of them have joined forces to encourage people to get out and take more photographs. 

Nikon said: "The partnership allows us to reaffirm our commitment to celebrating the beauty of the natural world through a visual medium."

The exhibition they explained, "encapsulates both the beauty and vulnerability of stunning wildlife and landscapes taken all over the world, from Rwanda to the arctic."

As I walked down London’s Regent Street, towards National Geographic’s flagship store, I was excited. I wasn’t going just to enjoy myself, oh no. ePHOTOzine had asked me to come away with an interview with leading wildlife photographer and West Ham fan Andy Rouse.

If what I had read in photographic forums was to be believed, he has a lot of supporters, but also a fair few snipers. I suspected he must be a strong character to polarise people’s opinion so widely. For this reason alone, I was sure it was going to be a very interesting evening.
Photo of a turtle by Andy Rouse
Photo by Andy Rouse.

The National Geographic store is truly a wondrous place. Arranged over three floors, it has all the stuff you need for going on an adventure. It even has a walk-in fridge, with a heat detecting camera for testing out that parka. Forget Alicante, next year I’m going to the upper reaches of the Amazon…

The main attraction of the evening, however, was Andy Rouse. It was his work on display, and his presentation. He didn’t have a stage, but he might as well have, starting off with a ‘good evening’, followed by ‘I can’t hear you - good evening!

Once he was sure we were all awake, he followed up with a couple of amusing asides. Violet and shrinking are not words to describe Andy. However, the tone had been set for what was to be a very entertaining talk.

As the producer of any reality show will tell you, there must be a back story. For the next 30 minutes or so, Andy told us the tale behind the ‘Vanishing worlds’. There were no tears, just a fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations of getting those inspiring shots.

The lengths Andy goes to in order to get that winning shot are very impressive. As he explained, wild animals don’t come to you, you go to them. This means sharing an often hostile environment for which they are perfectly adapted and you’re not. Andy recalled lying in the snow at minus 40, hands frozen into claws, playing peek-a-boo with an Arctic Owl to get that wide-eyed shot. While the owl just had its feathers, Andy was dressed up in as many layers he could snow-shoe in without falling over.

Andy told us he loves the opportunity photography gives him to get close to wildlife. It’s his passion for animals that drives him; the photography pays the bills to enable him to carry on. The wildlife is always his first consideration.

Polar Bear by Andy Rouse
He went on to say that the biggest threat to animals is their loss of habitat, giving a succinct example, ‘no pack ice means no polar bears’. His more recent pictures reflect this concern for the environment, with more emphasis on context than close-up portraits. He once said: "Ultimately, I hope that my work encourages everyone to care more about the world that we live in."

Andy has won a lot of awards, he told the background to one such shot. It was a picture of a tiger crossing a track while being photographed by three jeep-loads of tourists. Andy got an award-winning shot, showing wildlife tourism; the tourists get a once-in-a-life-time shot of a tiger… with a West Ham fan crouching in the background.

He also told a story about of a group of photographers in a field all wearing the latest camouflage gear, missing a shot of some fighting owls, as the owls could still see them. Our hero meanwhile, was hiding in a bush and got a fantastic shot. Andy’s fieldcraft experience showing through.

Once the talk was over, we were invited to walk around and look at the photographs displayed as prints. I could not fault the quality, there was some stunning work there, the best you are likely to see anywhere. A great mixture of shots - portrait, behavioural, and environmental.

I particularly liked the portraits, as that’s my area of interest. There were some great ones, including a baby gorilla with hair like James Brown, a magnificent polar bear with striking eye contact ( which must have been a bit scary), and a tiger looking very content with his chin resting on an old temple stone.

Andy’s portraits have all the same qualities that make great people shots: the eye contact, expression, character, lighting, and mood. However, there are some big differences in execution. With people you don’t have to stalk your subject ( unless you’re a paparazzi!), you don’t need to don snow shoes and trek for miles in freezing temperatures, and generally, your subject won’t view you as a potential snack.

I had never before been to one of Andy’s talks, I gather he gives quite a few of them. I found him to be engaging, candid, and funny. He speaks his mind which is both refreshing and entertaining. He comes across as passionate, enthusiastic and inspiring.

So having looked at all the photo’s, which was very enjoyable, it was time to get that interview in the bag. As I chatted to another photographer, I kept one eye on Andy, who was busy working the room. Then when I saw him pause, I knew that my moment had come and pounced, Dictaphone at the ready.

Here is a transcript of that interview, with questions supplied by you, good readers of ePHOTOzine:

MJ: "Has the profession of wildlife photographer been affected by market saturation? How does he stay ahead of the game?" From Barrie Harwood/ Mike Otley.

AR: "First of all I love animals, so I don't think commercially about what I do. I think that's very important otherwise your work will look sad and tired, so I always try to take a fresh approach.
I'm always learning new styles and techniques, I look at other photographer's work and I talk to other pros to find out how they took a particular picture. Talking to people and looking at their work is inspirational, I don't copy their style but I take inspiration from different styles and genres of photography.

I'm not a reportage guy, but I learn from that genre. To stay ahead of the game you have to always be improving your style and working on your game, evolving your work.

I'm well-known for taking portraits and that's what I've tried to kick - it doesn't show the relationship between the animal and the habitat they're living in, and I want to show that. I mean, even though I'm very good at taking portraits and I can take them whenever I want, I like to take other things now. I have a bigger tool kit now then I've ever had, and sometimes a portrait is no good, you have to take something else.
Bird in flight by Andy Rouse
Photo by Andy Rouse.

MJ: "Do you see wildlife photography changing over the next 5 to 10 years?" By Michael Phillips (Miptog).

AR: "I don't really think like that, I will continue to do what I do with animals and photography will do whatever it does. I mean, if I end up not working as a professional then so be it. I try to make sure that doesn't happen but photography is a difficult business, it's hard to stay at the top and you get slagged off a lot, particularly in forums and I'm getting sick of it, if it happens any more I’ll sue. I don't deserve it, I've taught hundreds, if not thousands of photographers and I give back more than a lot do and I don't need to be slagged off for it."

MJ: "Following on from that Andy, It’s been suggested that you’re a bit like Marmite, people love you or hate you, is that a fair comment? By Chris L ( Chris-L)."

AR: "It's a fair comment, but the people that hate me are just jealous and they don't like the fact that I give people inspiration. I don't say I am the greatest photographer, I just say I love animals. I push down the camera stuff, the technical side isn't important to me. Some photographers get annoyed by that because they think it is, and it's not. It's about the animals first and your empathy with the subject. I couldn't go out and photograph horse racing because I'm not a horse racing expert. I make photography an irrelevance, it's easy, I don't spend hours on a picture.

You can see by the number of people that are here tonight and the fact that I have thousands of people on my mailing list and my courses are booked-up all of the time. People know all I want to do is inspire them and I do. I just want to show people if I can do it, anyone else can.

MJ: "What animal have you never captured but would like to? From Katy C. (Rowarrior)."

AR: "I have to say that I am rather satisfied with the animals I have photographed and the things I've done. I want to do leopard and cubs and in the same way I did lion and cubs, also, I want to experience an elephant’s birth as I've only witnessed from about thirty seconds after.

There is lot of things now that I really want to photograph in the UK. I haven't photographed Badgers for ten years and I really want to go back into that."

MJ: "How would you photograph a very popular subject on ePHOTOzine; A Robin?" By Stuart (Mrgoatsmilk).

AR: "It's very popular generally. You photograph it cute, you put it on top of a plant pot or you put it in the context it lives with the garden in the background. There's a really good photographer called Mike Read, he did a book on Robins and what he did was get a Robin on a trowel and in the background was his foot, on a spade doing gardening and that's exactly what Robin's do, they come down looking for worms so that's a great picture. I think that's how I'd do it, that’s one of the best Robin pictures I have ever seen."

MJ: "How does one learn field craft?" By Alex (overread).

AR: "You don't, simple as that. I mean I can teach you a bit and you may understand it that doesn't mean you'll remember it when you're out. It's instinctive more than anything, I mean the reason I get so close to animals is because I am instinctively good with them and I instinctively know when they're going to react to me."

"What do you think of Chris Packham’s comment, in which he said we should let the Panda die out gracefully?" By (Big Bri).

Photo by Andy Rouse
Photo by Andy Rouse.
AR: "I don't agree with the comment he made but I do agree that, in modern times, for an animal to be conserved it has to be worth more alive than dead. The reality of modern conservation is that if the tiger is worth more dead than alive, then the local community is going to kill it. They don't see it as a tiger they see it as a way to keep their family alive for the next five years. You can't blame anyone for that; we have no right to tell people it’s wrong, because we don't live in that community. So as long as we make an animal worth more alive than dead then it's going to survive."

MJ: "Does the Viper Rucksack come with a course of gym sessions?" By Steve Kershaw (steve_kershaw).

AR: ‘laughed’ "Well, if you're stupid enough to put everything in it like I do...It’s really meant for 600mm users with a couple of other lens. I have a much smaller rucksack coming out called the Cobra. It can take a lot more weight, and is a much more useful backpack for many users."

MJ: "What’s the next project you are really looking forward to?"

AR: "I'd like to take this exhibition around the country so more people can see it and I'd like to do an outdoor exhibition but I don't really work on projects. At the moment I'm just chilling out, not doing much - a little bit of processing and written work and really just having a life! I don't need to take pictures every day, I haven't taken pictures for a month and I have no interest at the moment. I have a good family life, a wonderful girlfriend and a good group of friends. I'm a different breed of wildlife photographer, I don't live it everyday and that does alienate people."

MJ: "Why do you think you can alienate some people?"

AR: "Because I'm not doing it 24 hours a day some think it means I'm not dedicated to wildlife but what a lot of people don't see is the work I do behind scenes and the conservation work I do.

It seems that anything I do alienates people! I can't help it that I take great pictures, I used to apologise for it but I don't do it anymore because, as you can see here, people are inspired by it.

MJ: "Thanks very much for your time Andy."

AR: "Pleasure."

Words by Martin Jordan.

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JJGEE 17 8.0k 18 England
23 Oct 2009 12:09PM
What an excellent and well written article Smile

If I was Pete this would get "Article Of The Week" Wink
CathyT 16 7.3k 18 United Kingdom
23 Oct 2009 1:07PM
Well done Martin.......but is he going to photograph Hammer heads???
stix 17 924 87 United Kingdom
26 Oct 2009 5:33PM
Thanks Jeff, that's very kind. Did you realise that you could give it 5 stars? Smile
Thanks Cathy, what is it with you and hammer heads? Smile
Foxfire 18 322 United Kingdom
26 Oct 2009 11:09PM
REally Good article from sart to finish, I love Andy's attitude, that is his secret to being successful.

I had to give this Article the Big Five
Adderwatcher 12 60 19 United Kingdom
27 Oct 2009 7:03PM
A great article, I'm a big fan of Andy Rouse and his work. this was a well written and presented article.

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