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shemimages > shem compion > insights

 

Insights

Beginnings

I have always been drawn to the beauty of the natural world. I had the privilege of growing up on a farm where a lot of free roaming wildlife and birds occurred. For a young lad like myself it was bliss. My grandfather would lead me out each morning to record the birds on the farm. Being a meticulous observer and naturalist he would walk the exact same route at the exact same time every day of the year and then jot down the species in a massive journal. It was my honour to write down the species we observed as we moved along. Often I had groups of friends over to visit. All of us were keen nature enthusiasts and we would scour the open veld looking for birds, nests, and mammals. When we found subjects I noticed a distinct difference in approaches. My friends were mostly interested in the measurement, weight, range and colour of the species we found, while I was inclined to twist a feather in my fingers and watch how the colour changed in the light. It took many years for that simple act to resonate. It was brought on through me discovering my creative side via a camera. This type of upbringing and exposure to nature leaves an indelible mark on a person. Of course I did not know it at the time, but my life was metaphorically on course to "record the play of light on a feather when it twists in the hand".

I am fascinated more by art and beauty than by science and while those same friends are now leading biologists in their fields, I am the creative, where I was born to be.

My formal training is in Nature conservation and wildlife management. How I plunged into photography is still an enigma. With no formal training or experience I decided after 6 months of holding a camera in my hand that “This is what I am going to do”. From that moment on my life had a single purpose. I changed everything I was doing and moved it to align my cameras. With little heed to caution, there was no looking back.

 

 

Core

In 2002 I departed on a pre planned 7-month adventure into Africa with Andre Cloeté. The intention: to photograph the great game reserves of Africa. Our life savings were put into this project; Jobs resigned, savings emptied, film bought. Everything we both owned was thrust into the Landrover we were driving north into Africa. We were going to take photographs and nothing was going to stop us. It is a unique sensation realising that everything we did was riding on this crazy horse ride passion of ours, yet we were following a dream.

For 7 months we photographed at will, leading a life of adventure, survival and wildlife photography. The seeds of C4 Photo Safaris were sown on this trip, but the roots of my real passion bore deeper. Nothing was going to resist the force of creative energy building up in me. From this trip my first published images ran and gained me some foothold in the photographic world. The dream was becoming a reality.

In 2006 I drove through my local reserve, Rietvlei. It is a non-descript place right next to many municipal suburbs exactly 17 minutes drive from my doorway. I noticed some African Snipes on a causeway, when I got home I researched their behaviour. Breeding: nothing. Incubation: nothing. Breeding behaviour: nothing. This was all the incentive I needed. For the next 2 months I spent countless hours observing and photographing snipes at the nest on frost-ridden morning. The coup de grace was photographing their breeding display of ‘drumming’ as they flew over the nest site- a spectacle and technically very difficult photograph at the time.  The hours spent photographing produced some magical images and the project culminated in a 10-page portfolio in Africa Geographic’s Birds and Birding Magazine. It was the first ever such portfolio on snipes with text written by the late Prof. Phil Hockey, one of the pre-eminent bird behavioralists in the world.

As importantly, it exposed I didn’t have to necessarily travel far to get unique or great images. With good field-work, observation, planning, perserverance and cunning, you could get excellent images very close to home.

 

Meerkat moment

An image I took at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve was awarded ‘Specially commended” in the 2007 BBC wildlife photographer of the year competition.jpg world’s largest and most prestigious competition, the image found a special place in the fraternity and is used every single year in their exhibit, marketing and merchandising. It was the first time I tangibly realised how strong an effect an image could have. My in-box was flooded with mails, questions and interviews about meerkats, their lives, where they lived and how to see them. I discovered first hand that images can most definitely have an impact on conserving species and I attuned my mind to using my images for the good of nature. Since that day I have allowed my images to be used by scientists, researchers, biologist’s and conservationist’s gratis: My small part in giving something back.

 

 

Moment

It astounds me what my nature based upbringing and the influence of my grandfather has had on me. As a creative I am always experimenting with new techniques, angles and ideas for special images. One day it dawned upon me that photo hides were the answer for capturing unique images. Growing up we had hides all over the farm. My grandfather filmed white-faced owls at the nest, had hides at the birdbath and even built a custom walking hide to break the shape of the bipedal form. With this ingrained knowledge gained from years of watching him build his hides I arranged an exclusive photography concession at Mashatu in Botswana. Knowing it was a semi arid area I knew water would be a major attraction to animals. I didn’t stop with birds this time; I wanted something larger- elephants. 18 months after the paperwork was signed the first elephant herd drank at the underground hide customised for every aspect of wildlife photography you can imagine. A child hood dream was realised. It taught me, as a creative, never stop the images you have in your head.

People from all over the world travel to enjoy the unique perspective this hide offers. The images they take are fresh, a change from the norm and photographers with 20 years experience eye’s light up. Most are simply humbled by having a 3ton elephant 1 meter from them, never mind the thousands of new images they take. Either way, I take a great amount of pleasure in both. My focus as a photographer is to share. I make images and share them with people daily. My books share my knowledge and experience of being a professional wildlife photographer. Having people use the customised photography hides is an extension of that sharing. In this case they are seeing a lot more about me, what I am and where my creative vision leads me. The hides are an extension of where my photography: For others to gain pleasure from. It is a very personal expression and I am so glad that I can share it with others.

 





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