The series involved some major firsts in your career — your first use of colour, digital, and elaborate lighting. How was it to make such big changes in your practice?
It was simultaneously scary and exciting to be working with such elaborate lighting. I had never even used a flash before. At the end of the project, I still hate using flashes, which we needed to use for the first stage with the animals, but I am now very comfortable with constant lighting, which was used on the second stage with the people.
I was also simultaneously excited and frightened by working in color for the first time. I wanted to use it as expressively as possible, embracing the man-made vivid reds and blues and oranges to evoke the unnatural light imposed on a natural world.
I’m struck by the recurrent presence of that garish lighting, as well as fencing, railing, and of animals stuck in, or on the precipice of, deep trenches. Can you talk a little more about this sense of exposure and entrapment?
Yes, many of the animals were photographed down in deep trenches, as if the earth was swallowing them up, as if this was to be their graves, whilst above, the march of ‘progress’ continues relentlessly on.
Your pictures present local people as equal victims, rather than perpetrators, of environmental degradation. Why?
Yes, I never portray the people in the photos as the aggressors, because they’re not. Environmental degradation and the impact of climate change will almost always affect poor rural people the most, due to the exhausted natural resources upon which they rely.The real villains – the majority of politicians, industrialists and their largely self-serving ilk – are all off camera.
You worked on Maasai community land, a rare example of peaceful coexistence between animals and people. What can we learn from their example?
I don’t think we fully appreciate until we stop to think about it. This is probably one of the last unprotected places where animals and humans — a sizable number of humans — live alongside one another. It’s something more and more rare in the 21st century. Considering their level of poverty, it is all the more impressive that mostly, the Maasai tolerate the presence of the animals amongst them.
What can we learn from their example? Well, in their case, more and more now see that there is an economic benefit to preserving the wildlife because so much of their land is so poor in other resources, and ecotourism provides that opportunity.