As a child you lived quite an exotic life. How did your upbringing influence your love of animals?
As a child you tend to accept the life you were born into, as if it were nothing special. It’s only in hindsight that I realize how lucky I was. Living in Bangladesh, the Sudan, and New Guinea, I grew up being used to geckos climbing my bedroom walls, jackals running past my window, flocks of parrots in the garden, and the occasional tiger or snake that would drop by at night. I discovered early just how rich the natural world is. It was all around me. Even homework projects were an adventure. For example, when I was fourteen I did a project in our garden on a spider that nobody had ever studied before. That childhood sense of wonder at the world is something that I have tried to hold on to in adulthood.
When did you first become interested in photography? Have you had formal training, or did you simply learn as you went along?
I picked up my first camera when I was about nine years old, and it quickly became a hobby. But it wasn’t till I was thirty that I decided to pursue it professionally. I just picked things up by trial and error, and firsthand experience. Most of my twenties were spent hiking and mountaineering in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, and I always carried a camera, tripod, lenses, and other things. At first I’d just take record shots of a trip. But eventually I tried to take photographs that really did justice to the amazing places I visited. In the end, photography became the reason behind each hiking trip. If I did seek guidance, then it was by looking at photo-essay type books by other photographers. I tried to analyze them, figuring out the equipment they used, what gave them power. It’s amazing how much you can learn this way.
When photographing the Animals series, do you work on your own or with other people? Do you plan out your trips in advance?
For all of these books, I work on my own. First, I prepare a list of the animals that I want to photograph. Then I steadily check the list off. Some people think that I wander around and just bump into my animal subjects in a sort of random fashion. But each animal photograph is planned and can take weeks to complete. Photographing a wild animal, for example, takes a lot of research and traveling in order to find a suitable location. I need to find a place where the animal is reliably common, reasonably approachable, and with a scenic landscape as backdrop. Then I have to visit the same spot repeatedly, getting to know the subject in order to photograph it. Ultimately, you never know what’s going to happen. You just hope you’ll get the shot!