To mention “evolution” in the presence of my parents would have earned you a forceful “Go to your room!” I learned the truth in school. It is not only the planet and everything on it that has evolved over millennia, but we also change. Our beliefs, food preferences, hobbies, interests, friends, just about everything evolves and changes as we experience life.
I have always loved animals and felt comfortable with them, more so than people. As a child, the family dog was my best friend and confidante. My Dad had a Brownie and thankfully, I still have photos of all of my four-legged pals. My first camera was an inexpensive plastic model and when it was fatally damaged, I bought disposable ones, capturing moments here and there until, after a few U-turns, ups and downs, and career changes, a move to Victoria refocused my interests. That life change awakened something in me that was lying dormant as the challenges of life swept by.
Although I had travelled throughout Canada and the northern USA, I became passionate about worldwide adventures after owning a B&B. Meeting people from around the globe peaked my curiosity. I became intent on visiting the places that they told me about over long lingering breakfasts. Extensive travel through the British Isles, Scandinavia, The Baltics, Europe, Turkey, Egypt and the Mediterranean began with my Canon Power Shot T3i and within a year or two, a T4i and more lenses. There’s something extraordinary about visiting a place you’ve only dreamed of, read about or seen on TV. As it unfolds in front of you, it’s more beautiful than you’d imagined. The history, architecture, food and natural visions became my focus. I began to show and sell my work in Galleries and Fine Art Shows winning recognition and prizes for my efforts.
I had often heard the phrase “when one door closes, another opens” but I had no idea how much it would impact my life. As a former nurse, many of my elderly clients said “Don’t wait ‘until’ because it never comes.” When an opportunity comes along, take it and don’t look back. One year, money was tight and I was afraid that future travel would not be possible. My husband found a cruise in Europe that was affordable, but I said “No, something else was coming.” I thought of re-starting at the beginning of the alphabet as there were three places beginning with “A” that I wanted to visit. One morning before going to work, I checked my emails and to my astonishment and extreme delight, there was one from National Geographic asking if I would like to go to the Galapagos with Lindblad Expeditions. I had my husband call them immediately to say YES! (I would have been late for work otherwise!) I bounced off the walls for days. I don’t know how I was chosen, but Galapagos has 3 A’s in it, so I took it as an answer to a prayer. Now I leave all of the windows and doors open in my wishes and dreams house.
At the place where Darwin’s ‘Theory of Evolution’ was born, I had my “Road to Damascus” moment. My main focus for photography completely shifted from man-made history to nature and wildlife on my first day in that wondrous place of Endangered Species and Endangered Spaces. I had never imagined a world where wild creatures existed without fear of humans. Raw, powerful, shockingly beautiful scenery and wildlife brought mystery, magic and exceptional moments to my own personal discovery. The guides/naturalists were a wealth of information, passionate about the Galapagos, its protection and preservation. One guide led a few of us to the top of a mountain near the end of the day. We closed our eyes, felt the breeze, smelled the air, heard the sounds and became one with the place. The wild beauty and serenity of that experience will stay with me forever. We descended from the rocky summit in twilight to a zodiac waiting to take us back to the expedition ship. Because we were so late, we said that we had been kidnapped by pirates, but our guide negotiated our release.
We visited a plantation for the most wonderful feast. The owner greeted us with his husky by his side. He said that some Canadians left Galapagos but couldn’t take the dog with them, so he stayed. He noticed the Canadian flag on my camera strap. When I said lived in Victoria, he smiled broadly saying that years earlier he had worked at Butchart Gardens and that it’s his apple pie recipe that’s used in the Blue Poppy Restaurant. I then told him that I was Mrs. Ross’s private nurse until she passed. A connection was made. I knew that I had to return to that magical place, so I planned a fundraising tour to benefit the Bateman Foundation the following year. I revisited his plantation with 76 participants, including the Batemans. Galapagos was just as magical the second time. It was here that I began capturing statement and conservation images. I always include some in gallery shows and exhibits.
Then I wondered “What’s next?” Quark Expeditions got in touch soon after I returned home. Svalbard? Why not! The sheer exhilaration of being above 80 degrees North, just a few hundred miles south of the North Pole, vast expanses of untouched nature, one of the last places on earth where very few people have been before you. We were the first expedition of the year, no footprints anywhere, except polar bears that walked past our gear on a beach as we explored. One particular beach landing left an indelible image on my psyche. Thousands of whale bones and skulls extended the entire length of the water’s edge, rearranged by winter’s arctic ice and powerful storms, near a ramshackled old whaling station. The evidence of the carnage was haunting. Most vistas were black and white, save the stunning blues of the ice. Newly calved icebergs made the sound of rice cereal in milk as we floated silently alongside in a zodiac. The stark beauty of the place was truly breathtaking. My little cameras expired on this adventure, so a Canon 70D was added to the arsenal. New lands being created by volcanoes, geology made more spectacular by relentless erosion of glaciers, feels as close as you’ll ever get to another planet.
A retreat, again just-by-chance, to Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, Wyoming reinforced how popular wildlife art and photography are with 26 wildlife art galleries in a small town offering inspiration.
One day at a lunch meeting, I heard about a small tour to Iceland with one space left. Done. I travelled all around the country, seeing vistas that changed around every turn, rode an Icelandic horse, hearing Sagas and fables, tasting traditional foods, purchasing a real down pillow and surveying otherworldly landscapes.
For years, I have studied Robert Bateman’s paintings which reflect wildlife in natural settings. I used to paint but my evolution to photography was easier because he inspired me to look more closely at the natural world. Birgit Bateman is also a photographer and their mentorship has meant the world to me.
One day when working at the Bateman Foundation, a lady walked in. We started to chat and the conversation eventually led to Africa. She had organized a trip to Kenya with Zoo Keepers in the USA, and saw the excitement on my face but,alas, the trip was full. We exchanged cards. Two weeks later, she emailed me that someone dropped out. Would I like to go? I had dreamed of this since watching ‘Born Free” in 1966! I only had a couple of months to get ready but the one thing I had been preparing for, the biggest dream of my life, was about to come true. Instantly upon exiting the small plane on a dirt runway, I found my soul at Lewa Downs, my Garden of Eden, indescribably peaceful, calm, and serene. The source of human evolution, seemingly endless vistas and truly wild animals abound. I had a goal of photographing my connections with wild animals and I was not disappointed. There were spectacular wild encounters that I never thought possible. My cameras, now including a Nikon P900, have given me a way of seeing the world and myself in a new way, appreciating everything around me. Don’t ask me about shutter speed, ISO, lenses…I don’t know. My primary reasons for travel are for the experiences and memories, secondary are the photography and the ability to share my images and stories when I return. My intention is to “Give Back” to animal welfare organizations (BCSPCA, Wild ARC, Lewa Conservancy and Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya) through sales of my images.
Nature needs no enhancement, so I don’t use any photo-altering in post-production. It is as it was. I believe the role of the artist is conditioning cultural, social, environmental and conservational consciousness. Capturing wildlife images to preserve their existence is my raison d’etre.
I wish to: soar with eagles, dance with bears, walk with elephants, rest with lions and return to Kenya.