Amboseli, Kenya 2018
It was sometime after I took this evocative image, that I was able to check whether I had nailed
it. It was my very last frame before I got off the ground and ran behind my jeep and there
was no time to think, never mind look at the LCD screen. The mother was a colossus of an
elephant and I cut it fine in terms of the narrowing distance between us - I guess I was just
intoxicated by the sensational imagery I was seeing through the lens. To have been another
two seconds on the ground, would have been to take unnecessary risk. I knew I had something
very major and it was a relief to find out from the safety of the jeep that my focus was bang on.
Before this privileged moment in Amboseli, I had never come close to a taking a decent
portrait of a baby elephant. Babies are skittish, clingy and always well protected - most images
tend to be messy with a cocktail of legs - some large, some small and I have also struggled to
convey the height differential with a giant adult. The lack of clear opportunities should be no
surprise - elephants have great emotional intelligence and no more so than in protecting their
young - they are rarely physically detached from their mothers or herd. It is rare to even see
them fully exposed to day light, unless they are running between adults.
I want my work to be full of emotion - without this, there needs be a great number of
compensating factors for a photograph to be transcendental. I think The Walk of Life will
connect emotionally with people on a wide number of levels and provoke the odd goosebump
and maybe even a tear. Its strength comes from the deep symbolism of the narrative - there
is no more important job in the world than being a mother. 22 months is a long time to be
pregnant and it seems to harbour the deepest of loves.
I hope that the serenity and power of this image will allow it to stand the test of time. If that
is the case, give the credit to the elephant not me. To quote John Donne; ”Nature’s great
masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing.” Look at this photograph and one can
only find accord.
I don’t tend to use long lenses and did not take one to Africa, but I knew from earlier failures
in the week that if the elephant herd continued on their path towards me, I needed magnification
for an image to work. A 105mm lens would have been too loose as I knew I would never
be allowed to get close to the baby. The grass was too high for remotes with wide angles so I
was stuffed with my preconceived and default position approach. Luckily, I was able to borrow
a longer lens from the team. I guess it proves there are no rules in photography other than to
adapt to circumstances as you find them.