Why I photograph and engage with the natural world – An extract from an interview with Chris Clifton Psaila of Radio Gibraltar

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An extract from an interview with Chris Clifton Psaila of Radio Gibraltar

CCP – What makes you get out of bed in the morning and want to photograph the natural world?

GS – I photograph the beauty of the natural world, the abundant, the rare and the bizarre are all photographed in a way that not only epitomises, but also captures the spirit of my subject.  I enjoy nothing more than expressing my visual experiences and knowledge to a wide-range of audiences. When it comes to my professional image-making, I am most certainly a lone wolf; I fervently avoid the crowds and wildlife photography honey-pot sites so popular in Northern Europe. Instead I prefer to work my home patch of Andalucía, this results in a greater understanding from a natural history, ecological, conservation and photographic opportunity perspective and causes less impact on the environment. I work with the rhythms of nature and it’s this aspect of photography that makes each and every opportunity an exciting encounter.

I’m a composer as opposed to a cover artist and I pride myself on this statement of fact, my image library contains only unique compositions, this fact is becoming increasing rare today, as more people seek solace in wildlife photography, though sadly many lack the field skills acquired through years of experience as a naturalist. There are many photographers of wildlife, though fewer in my camp, that of a wildlife photographer. I do not subscribe to the trophy hunter mentality so prevalent even within professional photograph circles, the pay your money get your shot approach is so far removed from my ethos. My discerning workshop and tour participants are assured of outstanding photo opportunities and I advocate that images such communicate an emotional response and be a personal statement of their own vision.

CCP – I see you have been awarded in a number of high-profile international photographic competitions. What makes an award-winning image?

GS - Apart from the subject being interesting, technical, compositional considerations are all a matter of opinion, therefore who can say? Only that you have to enter to be considered and then it’s in the lap of the appointed judges. I have only ever entered five photography competitions to date and I have been awarded in four, I’m going to make a concerted effort in 2013 to rectify this situation and enter one international competition each month and who knows. In 2012 I was one of the few British photographer to be awarded in the world’s 2nd largest wildlife/nature photographic competition – Nature’s Best – Windland Smith Rice International Awards (US) it is good to know that I’m on top of my game so to speak. Though my proudest moment was winning the unique International Year of Biodiversity 2010 at the British Wildlife Photography Awards, the press picked on this fact in a way that resulted in a number of TV appearances; BBC One – The One Show and Sky News.

Mountain waterfall - Valle del Genal, Andalucia, Spain

CCP – How did you develop an interest in conservation and how is photography benefitting conservation?

During my formative years I spent much of my time beachcombing and rock-pooling, looking for shore crabs, starfish, anemones and other life-forms. I later progressed to nature watching, armed with a pair of cheap binoculars and a notepad, I kept records of my observations, discoveries and gained an enormous amount of knowledge. I use to read only natural history literature, the New Naturalist and Observer series of books where my guides to locating the creatures that occupied my mind.

Conservation is a complex subject and one that is never far from my thoughts. The Sierra Club, The John Muir Trust and The International Reptile Conservation Foundation regularly use my images to promote their good causes. Adding value to conservation is a lifetime committment, not a vehicle for kudos. I have always advocated that conservation needs a better marketing campaign to engage the wider audience of the public at large. Maybe conservation needs to take a look at simplicity of corporate marketing and just how powerful and engaging such marketing slogans can be. After all we all remember the Audi trademark marketing slogan “Vorsprung durch technik” we all know instantly that we are referring to Audi. There’s really no such trademark slogan when it comes to wildlife and environmental conservation.

There are and have been a number of high-profile conservation initiatives bounding around in Europe over the past couple of years, under the conversation photography banner, yet none has been able to cut through to grass roots-level. The sooner they engage the services of an outstanding marketing guru the sooner the public will be made aware of such good causes. From where I’m sat it simply is not happening, I hear the cliché “preserving wildlife and habitats for future generations,” then engage the entire educational system, what an obvious opportunity missed. In Spain where I live, as a mandatory part of the educational curriculum infants are taught all about the natural world, a far cry I’m afraid from many other countries. It’s a shame that despite all their efforts they are not reaching anyone other than preaching to the already converted, namely conservation organisations and the visual media community. So in my eyes they have failed miserably to communicate anything other adding a couple of thousand images to a stock agency library and bit of kudos for themselves to promote their added-value services. Surely conservation is a lifetimes work not a passing phase, maybe they’ve got it right and I’ve got wrong, that said only time will tell.

CCP – Who were your early influences?

GS - My early influences where not photographers as you might expect, they were artists. As a teenager I would was keen watercolour artist and really admired wildlife art, the seascapes and seabird paintings of Keith Hope Shackleton and the wildfowl and expansive landscape paintings of Sir Peter Scott where all influential in my development ultimately as a photographer. A chance meeting with eminent wildlife artist Charles Tunnicliffe spurred me on to do something visual as a profession. I hear many photographers saying they are influenced by this photographer and greatly admire this and that photographer, I always feel that they are still trying to develop a style, I’m past that stage on the learning curve. I would say I’m more an admirer of individual images as opposed to a number of individual photographers. I’m more likely to be influenced by the location in which I am working, a fleeting moment, a chance encounter, it is these factors and the search for perfection that charge the batteries. At the moment I’m concentrating on photographing the night sky and Milky Way, though as you know this could easily be aborted for the unexpected after all its really does pay to a generalist and an opportunist.

Threadwing 1 blog

CCP – What plans do you have for 2013 and beyond?

GS - We have a luxury showroom gallery in the Serrania de Ronda that is now our main interest. Photographers all over the world are having to look at becoming businessmen and business-like due primarily the market forces and economic state having markedly changed beyond recognition over the at past 5 years. By running a successful gallery we are able to control the value we think my images are worth and be controlled by a diminishing editorial market place.

CCP – What do you like about professional photography apart from taking stunning images?

GS – Paying lots of tax is what Galen Rowel the late, great American outdoor photographer and  environmentalist once wrote and I totally agree with this statement. It is the only real measure of how successful a PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER is. The bottom line is a healthy P&L statement. I refer to my office as the space the second I step outside my front door and look across the Valle del Guadiaro, I just say to myself WOW! and often pinch myself that I actually live in such an incredible location. Sadly nothing in Britain and as beautiful as it undoubtedly is can compare to the sheer diversity of habitat and the biodiverse hotspot of Europe it’s just an incredible region and make me feel humbled ans it’s the only place to date that’s brought a tear to my eye.

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