Art & Photography

Recent Encounters: David Yarrow, Photographer

The self-taught British photographer on his new series of photographs that have taken him from the snowy mountain-tops of Japan to the annual migration in Kenya, now on display at London’s Eleven Gallery

From the arid climate of Kenya’s dry season capturing a herd of elephants on their annual migration, to the frozen wilderness of Canada where a polar bear leads her cubs in search of food, British photographer David Yarrow has visited some of the earth’s most polar environments in order to capture images for his new series Recent Encounters, exhibited at London’s Eleven Gallery.

Running until 20 April, Yarrow talks us through a selection of images from the exhibition, providing an insight into the meticulous planning (and patience) that goes into every shot the self-taught photographer takes.

Big Chill, Jigokudani Valley, Japan

“The macaques (snow monkeys) of Japan are the most northerly dwelling monkeys in the world. The monkeys are found in the Jigokudani Mountains near Shibu Onsen (an hour from the Olympic City of Nagano, which itself is just 2 hours by bullet train from Tokyo).

By definition the snow monkeys should only be photographed in the snow. To do otherwise is to remove the context that defines them. January and February are the best times to visit – the temperatures are well below zero and therefore the snow monkeys are drawn to the warmth of the hot springs. I wanted to portray an intimacy and trust that can only be conveyed by the sense of proximity that a wide angle or standard lens affords. This required positioning the camera right on the hot water so as to have the same line of sight as the snow monkeys.”

Family, Amboseli, Kenya

‘The two million acre ecosystem of the Amboseli plays host to 1’500 elephants, including Africa’s largest bulls. Its flat and dusty terrain lends itself to deliberate encounters with the herds and in this park such encounters can be very close and very substantial.

“On one occasion, there were over 110 elephant walking just down from our lookout point and as I conducted this count, I was conscious of evolving emotions of privilege and humility. Amboseli has ‘a sense of place’ that few other amphitheatres in the world can match, and powerful imagery from here tends to resonate loudly with anyone with a passion for East Africa.”

Revealing Race, Amboseli, Kenya

“I was fortunate to be invited to photograph the local games tournament held in the dusty scrubland a few miles from Tortilis in the Amboselli. These events can sometimes be contrived and the presence of outsiders can affect the mood, but I was not aware that the locals felt any sense of encroachment and the visitors were certainly not there to patronise. I have filmed Olympics and World Cups, but never encountered a sports event quite as evocative as the 200 meter sprint. There was no way of telling the time of the winner, but I am sure that despite the bare feet and traditional Masai attire, it was comfortably within Olympic qualifying level – proof, if needed, that athletics is firmly within Kenyan DNA.”

The Long March, Snowhill Antartica

“It is the emperor penguins that are the prize encounter in this blue and white wilderness and to travel this far and not spend time with these creatures is surely a sub-optimal itinerary. The problem is that Emperor penguins are not too troubled with catering to the photographic needs of humans and their colonies are mostly in remote and inaccessible areas of Antarctica.[/one_third]

“There is no hurry at Snow Hill, and the penguins themselves are willing and curious collaborators in the whole production. Emperors are a bright species and despite often being over 3 foot tall, they pose no threat to humans. My sense is that they rather enjoyed our company, and so they should – it’s a hell of a long way to travel.

The behaviour of the adults and the young chicks is well documented, but there is still a magical sense of privilege afforded by the intimacy of the encounters at Snow Hill. It is theatre of unmatched opportunity for photographers who search for a little more than just a simple record of their brief presence.”

White Out, Cape Churchill, Canada

“Polar bears are loners – probably the reason why their potential appearance in numbers has never merited a collective noun. Yet in this ‘polar bear alley’ in Manitoba, there is the making of a collective, with research groups suggesting that about 300 bears a year visit. In two separate weeks traveling around Svalbard, I encountered 5 polar bears, whereas in just four days at Cape Churchill, I was able to photograph at least 25.”

Recent Encounters: David Yarrow runs at Eleven Gallery, 11 Ecclestone Street, London SW1W 9LX from Friday 12 April to Saturday 20 April