Interview: Photographer Gordon Buchanan's wild, wild world

Scottish photographer Gordon Buchanan speaks with Indulge about his most harrowing moments on assignment.

Jaideep Sen Published :  18th December 2017 12:17 PM   |   Published :   |  18th December 2017 12:17 PM
Gordon Buchanan

Gordon Buchanan

Going by his films, ace photographer Gordon Buchanan is more at home among the tribals of Africa, than among corporate folk in a big city.

Fresh off a series of travels, Gordon leads three new wildlife specials on TV. In Snow Wolf Family & Me, he attempts to gain the trust of a wild wolf pack. In Tribes, Animals & Me, he meets the San Bushmen of the Kalahari to find out more about lions, Ecuador’s Huorani Indians in search of the giant green anaconda, and the Sepik River people of Papua New Guinea who claim to hunt crocodile with their bare hands. And lastly, in Elephant Family & Me, he follows the struggles of first-time mother Wendi and her new baby, Wiva, exploring what it takes for the largest tusked elephants on Earth to survive in today’s Africa.

In an exclusive interaction, the Scottish photographer spoke with Indulge about his most harrowing moments on assignment.

How do you manage to keep calm when face to face with dangerous predators? 
I try avoiding dangerous situations in the first place. In case there are any, I calculate the risks. What’s normal for me is different from the others, and it all comes with experience.

It all depends on spending more time with wild animals and being able to identify what that risk is. Most people don’t bump into lions and tigers. It does feel more dangerous than it actually is in front of camera.

A still from Snow Wolf Family & Me

Were the tribal communities welcoming? What were their apprehensions about documenting their lives?  
In every case, each tribe we filmed always had their doors wide open. They were always proud of their cultural identities and traditions. I didn’t face any reluctance. They just wanted to teach me as much as possible about their lives, and they knew what to show me.

In almost every case, with the tribal groups, the question I am left with is: How long are they going to live like this? For instance, people are very happy in the Solomon Islands, with an idyllic way of life, and the children are happy and healthy. But their way of life is threatened, as their island may not be there 20 years from now.

A still from Elephant Family & Me

How do you respond to the idea that humans shouldn’t “disrupt” the lives of animals? What can we learn from the tribes, for a start?
There is not a single animal or plant or any species that is not affected by our presence on the planet. From pole to pole, most of the earth is affected.There are so many cases around the world in which we must get involved, and we need to find a way to help these animals. 

Do you have a specific goal in mind when you’re filming? Is there a message that you wish to convey to audiences?
I think I should convey the experience as accurately as possible. I do not want to romanticise a place or people or way of life or misrepresent an animal behaviour. It is about reporting — whether in India, or UK or Thailand. Somebody must have a chance to get into the window to see what I am doing.

How has technology changed things for documenting wildlife over the years?
I am staggered by technology and how it has evolved. With technology constantly updating every year, it always gives us a new way of filming animals, and it has been more interesting every year. And thirty years from now, it is only going to be the tech-driven. 

Any words of advice for youngsters looking to take up wildlife photography? How essential are the aspects of patience, and respect for humanity?
All you need is the patience to start with, and that grows into an amazing way of living. You have to work hard and prepare to do things that might be awkward. It is more important than ever to tell these stories, to show people how wonderful and incredible this world can be. 

Gordon Buchanan’s shows air on Sony BBC Earth, Mon-Fri at noon.