Monday, February 2, 2009

Interview with Michael Nichols

Before his book signature, Michael Nichols spared a moment to talk about his work, in the rain. Immediately, he introduced himself, getting rid of labels: “Because I photograph animals, people call me a wildlife photographer, an adventure photographer, “the Indiana Jones of photography”; I’m a photojournalist.”
Destruction of the environment and endangered species has always been a preoccupation for Michael. As it is getting worse, he works really hard to tell their story, speaking for them since they can’t speak for themselves. “I feel a huge obligation to do the work that I do. I’m kind of on a mission. The Geographic has such a huge audience that I really started to see how much effect the work can have. With the Megatransect work, for instance, they’re building parks and setting up reserves as a result of our coverage”. Michael wants to help to protect the few places left on earth that are truly wild.
Michael evoked his trip to Congo where he got confronted to the essence of wildness.

”When I was in Congo, and stayed there so long by myself, I really started to see true nature. I’m not sure I can put it into words. So I really try hard to put it into photographs. And I hope you can look at my photographs and realize that that’s really a wild creature”.
Michael feels privileged to be in constant contact with wild animals, like tigers, gorillas. Contrary to people who fake wildlife photography, using cages, enclosures, trained Hollywood animals, Michael waits patiently until something truly happens. “If you are not calm and patient, you can get in stupid situations. One time, there was a female tiger with her cubs. I wanted to show how a female teaches her babies to kill, how she raises them. I pushed very hard to get the picture, and she attacked us. She taught me to be patient. Another time, I was angry; I got out of the car and starting photographing an elephant. I upset it. The guards had to shoot in the air to protect us. If I ever die killed by an animal, it will be my fault.”

Michael Nichols expresses his passion for elephants through his wonderful exhibition “The Roots of Heaven”, in couvent des minimes. Elephants are intelligent and peaceful animals. “One of the greatest gifts of my life has been to spend time with African elephants: watching them through my camera, searching for images that express who they are, how they live.

They love to play, to touch, to socialize. During my time photographing them at Zakouma National Park in Chad and Samburu National reserve in Kenya, and in Central Africa, I’ve never observed the kind of selfishness you see with apes. Elephants make friends for life, grieve in response to death. There is an amazing cultural discipline among them.” But the animals are threatened, massacred by poachers, being slaughtered for their tusks and teeth, to make piano keys, and billiard balls, and ornamental carvings. The profits from the ivory may go toward funding guerrilla activities and weapons, or toward personal wealth. There were 200,000 elephants around Zakouma in 1970; in 2005, a survey accounted for 3,665 elephants. The following year, the count was down to 2,900. An organization “Save the elephant”, based in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve, tries to help the situation. Last year, Michael Nichols spent 5 months photographing the elephants. Here, they are in relative peace: “they regularly fell asleep within inches of my camera’s lens. They threw mud, water and sand on me as a game. They responded to my talking and improvised elephant-language.”

“In my thirty years as a photographer, I’ve seen the world become more and more finite and fragile. I deeply believe that our only hope now is to wake up and shake the chains of greed, “manifest destiny”, “the American dream”, and start realizing that this whole planet is a sanctuary. Without its natural inhabitants, (without whales, tigers, gorillas, elephants) it cannot be whole.”

Marion Mozzihttp:

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