[Photography/Wildlife] William Fortescue
Psychic Garden presents an exclusive interview with our new resident creative, one of the most talented young wildlife photographers of our generation; William Fortescue.
We spoke with William about his photographic expeditions into the natural world and his experiences documenting our planet's endangered wildlife. We are proud to announce the launch of Will's new print collection with Red Eight Gallery, with the full exhibition coming December 2021. We also gain a rare insight into Will's debut book: "Origins", coming Autumn '21.
The cornerstone of my photography is the desire to depict wild animals in their natural environment, undisturbed. My presence should in no way influence their behaviour for, in doing so, my image would no longer be what I set out for it to be; natural.
How did your journey as a wildlife photographer begin?
Wildlife photography and conservation is the only career I have known. Upon leaving school I went to work in the Masai Mara, one of Africa’s most popular game reserves, as an intern for Governors’ Camp Collection. Here I learnt how to host safaris, run a lodge and begun developing my first photographs - something that excited me just as much as seeing my first lion or elephant. For two years I returned to Kenya and Governors’ before deciding to fully pursue wildlife photography. This led me to Falmouth University in the U.K, to study Marine and Natural History Photography; a one of a kind, specialist three year degree dedicated to teaching wildlife photography, film making and conservation. In 2017 I graduated with first class honours.
As a wildlife photographer it is impossible not to be deeply affected by the destruction of the natural world. It is vital to me therefore that my work is able to help not only raise positive awareness for what must be done but also make a financial contribution to its safe keeping. I am delighted to be partnered with two fantastic conservation organisations; David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and Saving The Wild, to whom we are donating 10% of the proceeds from each print sold.
In 2020 I was asked to contribute my work to Prints for Wildlife, a global print sale campaign involving 150 of the worlds leading wildlife photographers and raised over $660,000 for African Parks Network. This, along side Prints for Conservation, another fundraiser to which I contribute prints, provide critical relief to conservation organisations in East Africa where so much of my work is taken.
What can you tell us about your creative process and the artistic intention behind capturing your wildlife images?
I have been very lucky to enter a wildlife photography arena that, in the last two decades, has been completely revolutionised by a handful of incredibly talented individuals. One of these, and no doubt one of my biggest inspirations, is Nick Brant. Among his key mantra’s was to photograph wildlife in the same way he would photograph people; by getting as close as was possible and using a wide angled lens, therefore displaying not just the subject but also its environment.
As you’ll see throughout my work, this is something I have placed particular emphasis on. I rarely carry a ‘long lens’ with me, instead using lenses you may find more often in a portrait photographers kit bag; 35mm and 70-200mm being my go to options presently. My reason for doing so is to try and capture an entire scene, which, given some of the stunning areas I am lucky enough to work in, creates a much more dynamic image. The landscape is as much a part of the story as the subject, particularly now when our ever increasing human population is putting untold pressure on our last wild places.
I’d like there to be two sides to my work though. The first is the print element, creating images that will, with luck, go on to become large, fine art pieces in someone’s home. I enjoy printing my work almost as much as I do capturing it, and do get a genuine buzz seeing my images translated in to prints. The second is more story telling based. There are so many incredible photo-journalists out there, creating photographic stories with vital conservation and humanitarian messages, the likes of Brent Stirton, Ami Vitale, Charlie Hamilton-James or Aaron Gekoski are just some of the people making a huge difference with their work. It’s an area of photography I’d love to explore more.
This year I took on my first assignment, with a Kenyan based conservation charity The Pangolin Project. I got to spend 5 days in a conservancy in south-west Kenya, documenting the work they do protecting and researching the world’s most illegally trafficked animal. We won’t be publishing too much of it for a while as it’s such a long term project, but I’m really excited by what we’ve got so far and cannot wait to continue it. My hope is that, mine and many photographers images, are a reminder that it is not just wildlife we are striving to protect but also the areas they live.
You mentioned that you're part of a big gallery opening on the 25th in England. What can you tell us about this upcoming event?
Absolutely. I’ve just signed with Red Eight gallery, a London based private art gallery representing some of the most exciting contemporary artists around, so it’s a real honour to have my work shown along side theirs. On the 25th March we’re launching a body of new work, created in Kenya over the last 12 months. This first collection focuses on elephants in Amboseli, as well as cheetah and lion in the Masai Mara.
Depending on what travel looks like for the rest of 2021, I’m hoping to add a lot to this before our first show at either the end of this year or start of next. We’ll be donating 10% of each sale to my partnered charities, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and Saving The Wild, two fantastic organisations at the forefront of progressive, holistic conservation across Africa and Asia.
It is so important to me that my work is able to raise both awareness and vital funding for their work, for without organisations like theirs I would have very few images to show. My hope is that through offering prints supporting their missions, people are able to have art on their walls that they know is making an active difference to the wildlife we all adore. If anyone would like to hear more about the collection, or indeed look to purchase one, the gallery can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or I would be happy to introduce anyone to them through my socials. Get in touch!
Can you share some of your experiences as a wildlife photographer? Could you tell us about your work in AMBOSELI documenting Elephants?
I am firmly of the opinion there is no eco-system more exciting to photograph elephants than that of Tsavo-Amboseli. Despite the constant battles for survival faced by elephants across Africa (poaching and habitat loss), here the population has thrived.
Set in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro some 1,700 elephants dominate the landscape, including a baby boom of around 200 calves last year. It is also home to the majority of the world’s last remaining ‘super tuskers’. This is an elephant with tusks weighing more than 45kg (100Ibs) each, making for an immensely impressive sight as they cross the plains with tusks scraping the ground. It is thought only twenty remain in the world.
In February this year, we got truly lucky. Two big bulls were in a period known as ‘musth’. During which their testosterone levels go through the roof and they’re eager to breed. We had been following one, ‘Vronsky’, for a couple of hours, watching as he sauntered down the road, blocking the path of any safari car that dared try and pass. When he saw another male, also in musth, it was clear there was going to be a stand off and, perhaps, a fight. The two giants sized each other up, before clashing in a swamp, spraying water everywhere and providing a timely reminder to those of us watching that despite their naturally gentle nature, when angered they are unrivalled in power and strength.
Sometimes the narrative around photography can try to enhance the feeling around a sighting into more than it was - to me this is detrimental as it makes viewers feel disconnected or that moments like that are inaccessible to them. The truth is, particularly in areas like Amboseli, so many of us are able to witness epic encounters like those in these images. Particularly in the last 12 months, when even though international travel has been at record lows, more Kenyans have been able to enjoy wildlife on their doorstep.
I really hope that once through the mess we currently find ourselves in, more people take the time to enjoy wildlife either near where they live or further afield. The more people we can encourage to engage with wildlife the far greater our chances of protecting it are.
Could you tell us about your expedition to RWANDA and your experiences photographing endangered GORILLAS?
Like many photographers, this had been top of my bucket list for years. Rwanda has a turbulent recent history, with their tragic 1994 genocide one of the most horrific to befall any nation. However, more recently, they have been heaped with praise for their forward thinking approach to conservation and now attract thousands of visitors a year, primarily to come and see the famous mountain gorilla.
In 2020, the mountain gorilla population rose to above 1,000 individuals for the first time since populations have been monitored. A true win for conservationists and the governments approach - a permit to trek with gorillas in Rwanda is now $1,500, and the revenue this generates has been used to successfully conserve the area the gorillas inhabit.
I was lucky enough to spend one morning in 2019 trekking with gorilla. After a couple of hours hiking through the rainforest, we found them in a great little clearing. Your time is limited to just an hour, which as you can imagine, passes in a flash. There was a light drizzle around, so they were not hugely active, but the youngsters were playful and we were treated to an amazing view of the silverback ‘Muhoza’, sitting cross armed and looking understandably grumpy at the rain - reminding me of almost all my fellow Brits when it rains, there’s nothing we love to moan about more!
Throughout the hour I was able to quietly and slowly move around the edge of the clearing, observing first and photographing second. As the rain intensified the group moved closer together, heads down and arms crossed, clearly as miffed about the rain as we all were. A number of moments stand out from this trip, but perhaps just as interesting was visiting the camp site that had once been Dian Fossey’s research station. Here she had lived, high in the rainforest, driven by her determination to understand and protect gorillas.
Following her (unsolved) murder in 1985, there is now very little left of the camp. A few foundations remain visible but best kept is her grave, next to those of her beloved gorillas. A fitting resting place, I hope, and the relative success of the areas gorilla population testament to her and others inspiring dedication to save a species from the brink of extinction.