Born Free: Nigel's Experiences in Africa
Nigel’s journey in travel photography began in Africa. Through this experience, he met the Travers family, founders of the Born Free Foundation. Now Nigel’s work and relationship with the outdoors is informed by his support of the foundation, their conservation work inspiring him to protect the places he travels to for generations to come.
What’s been your best travel photography experience and why?
"Every time I go out is my best experience. I know it’s such a cliché to say that, but it really is because you want to feel that the last thing you did was the best thing you ever did. I look back many years ago when I was just starting photography and I really was just starting, I hardly knew how to use a camera! Back in the days of film, it was all very new, I was in Africa and I got to work for the Kenyan Wildlife Service.
It was a purely fluky thing where I scammed my way into a job, they took me on and I still have to look back and be grateful because that set the scene for me to work in this environment, to understand nature and to see just how incredible it was. I’m talking about the Masai Mara, Meru National Park, amazing beautiful parks. They really were something else and even now I look back and think I was really lucky to get that gig; it was the seed that started all of this off and it’s still in my heart even today."
Why is conservation important and relevant to your work?
"I’m not a wildlife photographer so I suppose conservation isn’t directly relevant to my work but it’s certainly essential. What is the environment I’m shooting and more importantly, what is the outdoors without animals or other living things sharing it? What a sad place it would be. Let’s be honest, if we didn’t have conservation, it wouldn’t be long before we didn’t have an environment, and then we’d have nothing just a place that is a rocky nothingness. We live in the most unbelievable biosphere of diversity, that’s what conservation is to me. Without it, my studio is nothing.I’m not a wildlife photographer so I suppose conservation isn’t directly relevant to my work but it’s certainly quintessential. What is the environment I’m shooting and more importantly, what is the outdoors without animals or other living things sharing it? What a sad place it would be. Let’s be honest, if we didn’t have conservation, it wouldn’t be long before we didn’t have an environment, and then we’d have nothing just a place that is a rocky nothingness. We live in the most unbelievable biosphere of diversity, that’s what conservation is to me. Without it, my studio is nothing."
So how did you get involved with the Born Free Foundation? What is your connection to the cause?
"Strangely enough, I never actually met Born Free when I worked out in Kenya. I knew of them because I grew up in the 60s and 70s when the films were iconic movies to me, they always inspired me. Of course, when I went to Kenya, that was their environment and then, purely through chance, I got to know the Travers family through photography. I told them of my experiences in Kenya and what I had done and of course they knew all the same people I’d met, all the same people I’d stayed with and we shared that experience. I suddenly realised that these people I knew from the movies and understood that lifestyle in Kenya were real heroes to me and as a consequence, we became lifelong friends.
They’ve always been people and a cause that I’ve championed because it represents everything I saw in those early Kenyan days. Elephant poaching was happening then, rhino poaching was happening then, that culture of hunting for trophies was happening then, and it’s still going on today. These guys are real warriors. They’re fighting a losing battle but if they give up then the battle is really lost. I just hope and pray that I do see a change in my lifetime and all their work does make a difference. Born Free are incredible in what they do."
Tell us a bit more about the work of the Born Free Foundation.
"The heart of the foundation obviously started with Elsa the Lioness, which is what all the Born Free movies were based around, but their conservation programmes now have diversified to include the Ethiopian Highlands and they now work in India too. A lot of their work is really meant to inspire the native people who live in these parks to love wildlife as much as we do. This is exactly what Cotswold Outdoor are trying to do – get people who live in an amazing outdoor environment to appreciate the things around them and to realise that if they interact with them in the right way, they can make a living and live alongside these animals in peace. They don’t need to allow trophy hunting or all these things which are so destructive to wildlife. They can be part of it.
The foundation is now spread to all different parts of the world and all different kinds of wildlife. It’s doing incredible things and I would love everyone to look into them a little more and read about their work."
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