Last night, director and photographer Tim Flach joined us in the YCN Library to talk about his new book, Endangered.
London-based photographer and director Tim Flach's beautiful and unmistakable work has increasingly focussed on the animal kingdom. Tim's interests lie in "the way humans shape animals, and shape their meaning — whether genetically, as with the featherless chicken, or with the symbolism that gives a special significance to a dove but dismisses a London pigeon as a flying rat." His work sets out to promote discussion and encourage debate, and has been featured in major public collections including the National Media Museum and the Swedish Museum of Natural History.
Remarkably, and more recently, Tim has travelled the length of the earth as part of an extraordinary multi-year project (20 months shooting and six more assembling the images) to visually explore what these animals, and their possible disappearance, mean to us. In his latest book, Endangered, Tim illustrates the tragic state of the natural world; highlighting the diversity of endangered species and the human-caused threats that they face everyday. From big cats in a losing battle with human settlements, to elephants that have been hunted for their ivory, animal portraiture is teamed with landscape photography to foster an emotional connection with species and their habitats, and remind us of the importance of connecting people with nature.
On the 15th of February, Tim joined us in the YCN Library for thought-provoking evening, as he talked us through the story behind his powerful new book, and the capture of its stunning images.
Here’s what we learned.
For Tim, photography is just a medium, and it is the way that it is applied that matters most. “It's not about being an adventurer, it’s about being a communicator.”
Endangered was realised after he had spent time exploring the world's rainforests, where he was made aware of the need for a shift in wildlife photography, which was not a fair representation of its current state. So following his trip, Tim spent six months working with the world's best conservationist specialists in order to find out what stories needed sharing, in order to raise awareness of the issues facing the natural world, and the potential impact of their loss.
"Sometimes it’s about the less iconic animals”, Tim explained, highlighting the striking story of Eagles. Icons of death in popular culture, Eagles are in reality nature's cleanser – they absorb pathogens and anthrax. Yet they are endangered, and their loss will impact lives the world over, which has already been seen in India, where their collapse has led to an outbreak of rabies.
So in order to give fair representation of all problems facing the natural world, the book is broken down into ecological drivers like climate change, which are portrayed through photography of the animals that demonstrate these issues. And to maintain focus throughout the book, there are only 150 words, written in poetic form in size 10.5pt. Collectively, Tim believes that Endangered represents the most powerful way for us to engage with the natural world.
Often failing to create behavioural change, a lot of conservationists question the failure of wildlife photography today, and its romanticisation of the natural world. “If you're in a world where its romanticised, it’s separated. Therefore, if you’re a wildlife photographer, you must be better informed.” For this reason, research is a fundamental part of Tim’s practice; he is very interested in finding out what drives impact, and why it works.
Dedicated to discovering the most powerful way to engage with the natural world, he regularly works with neuroscientists and sociologists to enhance his projects, finding out the triggers to create emotional connections.
From a design point of view, “The power of imagery is beyond belief”. For example, just a change of colour has the ability transform interpretation. To explain the concept, he highlighted that “Doves are a sign of purity, peace and spirituality in many religions; and yet it is genetically the same as an everyday pigeon, which many people call flying rats.”
He continued by giving insight into sociologist Lina Kalof’s study, within which people were shown photos of animals against black backgrounds. Before and after, the group was asked about their views of the natural world. The shift in their views from caring about the world were profoundly changed by these pictures, as they portrayed the personality and characteristics of these animals far more efficiently than other projects, which led on the main focus of the evening. Busy images like those taken in the wild "means we don't connect quite as powerfully" – and it is for this reason that Tim uses black backgrounds in his work to ensure the most a minimal, and impactful imagery.
In the world of art and photography, the process of bringing an experience into your world is hugely important, as it enables us to make emotional connections. For this reason the key ingredient of Tim’s work is humanisation. “The real problem with a lot of wildlife photography that lies out there is it portrays a world where we don't exist, but evidence from studies shows that we respond to personality and character.”
Therefore, in Endangered Tim adopts the same style as human portraiture. He demonstrated the impact of this by spotlighting the photograph on the front cover of the book. The timid-looking, wide-eyed Crowned Sifaka-Ring Tailed Lemur resembles a self-conscious child – immediately triggering the feeling of compassion and adoration. He explains that this is because "cuteness is one of the most powerful mechanisms, and it works like neuro highway." And as we are genetically wired to respond in this way, it is the most efficient way to communicate these difficult issues, like those of climate change, forcing even an egotist to emotionally connect with a story.
He also addressed how the world of fiction can have similar effects. For example, his photo of the Pied Tamarin – one of the most critically endangered animals in the world – is relatively unheard of across the globe. However, when observing Tim's work, it is often a species people care most deeply about, simply for the reason that reason resembles Yoda, the heroic fictional character in the Star Wars.
“If we succeed in emotionally connecting, then it's possible to bring these animals and the natural world back. But the only way is to be emotionally connected to the subject.”
Location:72 Rivington St,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:15th February, 2018 at 6:30pm
End:15th February, 2018 at 8:30pm