THE WALK OF LIFE
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.