Conservation Beyond the Camera with Pete Oxford
“What is a conservation photograph? It transcends culture, age, gender, language, all those barriers that the written word might have. And it does so instantly.” This conversation with conservation photography legend Pete Oxford explores the heart and soul of using photography for conservation.
Conservation photography isn't a special type of photography. It's a special way of using your photography as the powerful tool it is.
And Pete Oxford knows this well.
Sure, he's won awards for his images…
(hello, IUCN ‘Man in Nature' Photographic Prize, Ecuadorian Photojournalist of the Year, Ranger Rick Photographer of the Year, top 40 Most Influential Nature Photographers in the world, 10 images recognized by Wildlife Photographer of the Year… )
… but that's not what he counts as success.
In this interview, Pete shares what he considers to be his biggest accolade, plus:
- how he's used his photographs in specific and time-sensitive ways to make major impacts for conservation
- what travel really means to him
- the secret ingredient that made his book on Ecuador, which isn't conservation focused, a success for conservation
- what to expect when you're on a tour with him
- and of course, the amazing biodiversity heaven that is his backyard (and the squee-worthy visitors who tromp through every morning)
Resources & Links Mentioned
Photographers & Filmmakers…
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This episode is sponsored by:
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Episode 093: Conservation Beyond the Camera - An Interview with Pete Oxford
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
[00:00:00] Jaymi: Well, Pete, Oxford, I am so excited that you are my guest on the podcast today. I've been a fan of your work for a very long time. So thank you so much for joining us.
[00:00:10] Pete: That's a pleasure. I mean, I hope I've got something interesting to say. That's all.
[00:00:14] Jaymi: Well, I just got a gorgeous tour of your house via, you know, virtual video, but where are you based right now for anyone who doesn't know where you are in the world?
[00:00:23] Pete: I'm, on the very Southern coast of South Africa and the Western Cape, little village called Betty's bay right in front of us now is the Atlantic ocean, which very soon becomes Indian Ocean she was sort of in the mix of the two oceans here. And, it's an absolutely gorgeous location. It's it's set in the cockleburg biosphere reserve.
[00:00:45] Pete: So extensively at least on paper, it is protected. And it's a hugely bio-diverse region that we're in mostly based on the flora. It's one of the, is the smallest floral kingdom in the world, but it's, it's [00:01:00] a tiny little area. If you consider a floral kingdom being, the neotropics for example, all the way round the , south American tropical area, that's a whole, that's one kingdom.
[00:01:10] Pete: And yet we are in a whole kingdom, just in this little tiny strip of coastline where we live. It's basically centered around Fain boss, F Y N B O S. It's shrub like habitat, but it's very, very diverse. So yeah, it's, it's a wonderful place. Kind of landed on our feet really coming here. don't really want to leave.
[00:01:28] Pete: So COVID
[00:01:31] Jaymi: well, yeah, as a nature photographer, even though it's primarily flora biodiversity you must just be in heaven.
[00:01:39] Pete: It's a, yeah. As a photographer, it's got a lot to offer. I'm not using the place as a photographic venue as such, not certainly not for commercial reasons. I am doing image imagery, but that's certainly for local conservation efforts that we're involved with deeply here.
[00:01:56] Jaymi: I could imagine not wanting to bring anybody into that [00:02:00] realm and just be like, no, I'm just going to enjoy the quiet beauty of this. Well, you're a globe traveler. You've been all over the world and back what made you settle in this particular area in South Africa?
[00:02:12] Pete: It's kind of for personal reasons that don't be personal. Not that I'm not going to tell you, but I was living in Ecuador for 34 years, in south America. And we were actually gonna move up to the states for commercial reasons. Thought it was a good business move, but I'm very glad we didn't do that in the end.
[00:02:32] Pete: So I would say but, , in the end it was down to, Renee, my wife, her parents they needed a bit of help. They were down here anyway. She is south African so we came down looking to help them rent. And what have you I gave Renee just before she left. I was in Ecuador. She was going to be gone for two weeks.
[00:02:49] Pete: I said, okay, man, whatever you do, just one simple instruction. Don't buy a property. we'd been looking in there loosely for about a year before, [00:03:00] just out of curiosity, really. And um, on the very last day, she phoned me in Ecuador. She said, uh, I said, what is it? And she said, Peter, I'm going to buy a property.
[00:03:09] Pete: I said, well, hang on before you do that, let me just send you a link of the property that I bookmarked a year ago, I sent her the link and she said, it's the same property. I was stymied. I had no recourse, but we had to change our plans dramatically. And we can't live in. Don't regret it at all. Actually,
[00:03:33] Jaymi: I believe it.
[00:03:34] Jaymi: Oh, that's so wonderful. Well, you and Renee have been partners for a long time, both as a professional and personal. How did you guys end up in.
[00:03:44] Pete: I was a guide in the Amazon in Ecuador, and she came as a tourist and they, they go committed to one of the first Cardinal sins of being a guide. And, um, so [00:04:00] we got on very well.
[00:04:01] Pete: It was actually quite cheesy. The way I conquered her is, is the wrong word. But would it be, what did you say? Um, we were walking along a trail in the, in the forest with a small group of other clients as well. And Renee was by far she's built like a wasp and she's by far the, sort of the, uh, the lightest person in the group and also the, uh, the most amenable.
[00:04:23] Pete: So I said, okay, Renee, I took her by the hand and I walked her up. This. Tree sit stand there. She was about five, six foot also ground I said stand there. Then I walked back about 30 meters. This is very cheesy. and don't really know why I'm telling you this behind every self-respecting jungle guides have got his own little personal vine.
[00:04:44] Pete: And so behind a tree, I had my vine or hooked up and I grabbed it, ran like hell towards Renee yelling. Like Tarzan grabbed her with my feet. We swung backwards and forwards in a pendulum. Be fun. They fell up in the mud, got road [00:05:00] dirty, but there was a lake road quite there. So. Let's just jump in the lake quickly and clean off, but you know, that all Perona electric, eel, um, Anaconda and caimen lots of stuff.
[00:05:11] Pete: So just stay close, you know? So she was hanging onto me, like, uh, like anything that was all it took, you know?
[00:05:22] Jaymi: Oh my God. It's like our own personal Tarzan slash Indiana Jones right there. That's a great, great story. And so it's just been kind of world travel, conservation, photography, wildlife photography ever since.
[00:05:36] Pete: Yeah, pretty much. Well, , it started off as travel. , and then, , Renee's dad was a doctor and he subscribed to this local doctors magazine and we got back one day from the high Arctic up in the, see north of Siberia there. And it was narrow that basically very few people had traveled to. And I had all these pile of images and whatnot.
[00:05:59] Pete: And [00:06:00] so they looked through them and this is why you must be bright, this for diversions and the doctors magazine, I said now, never published anything. You know, so I did, I sent it off it was on a single, it was a scrolled piece of paper. So it was on a roll, came straight off to talk about our Longwell wasn't even A4 sent that off with some slides and it came back front cover.
[00:06:21] Pete: They did a whole big spread inside a whole pull-out for the magazine, all about the trip and everything. And I said, hell, this is easy being a photographer. So of course it never was again, but that's kind of what got me into it. and then really the conservation part. I was a conservation conservation, IST and conservation photographer really, before the term was coined.
[00:06:48] Pete: I mean, that's what I was doing has always been my interest. And it's always the idea to to educate and raise awareness. I think that's, that's really the bulk of what conservation [00:07:00] photography is. We can talk about that in a little bit though, but, In the end, it was documenting the travels. And at the time these were places, as I said, that few people had been. And so the images had value both commercially and from a novelty perspective as well. And so it just took off relate because it was, it was relatively easy in those days and doing that kind of travel.
[00:07:26] Pete: And of course this will change. Now,
[00:07:29] Jaymi: in the course of your career, did you notice a particular point in time where things shifted and I mean, being a wildlife photographer is never like straight out easy because there's so much involved in just getting to location and getting images and that sort of thing.
[00:07:44] Jaymi: But in terms of having it be a career for you, did you notice a point in time where. Entering the field of wildlife photography just became so much more difficult for people who are making a living out. It became more difficult.
[00:07:57] Pete: Yeah, no, absolutely. [00:08:00] I'd always known two things. And the reason I got into in the first place was that I I'd known two things in my whole life.
[00:08:06] Pete: And that was that I wanted to travel and I wanted to be in nature with wildlife and the best way it turned out to combine those two was to be a photographer, gave you the excuse to go and, and be there and try and repay the cost of the trip and then make some money on top as well. It was good.
[00:08:25] Pete: Put a lot of, lot of time into all kinds of animals and scenarios and situations and what have you. And that's what it was all about in those days. It was much more about dedication. It was the days of film of using slide film. And so it was more critical that you got the shot. It was you know, you could only carry so many rolls of film on your trip 36 inches per roll, et cetera, et cetera.
[00:08:48] Pete: There's no instant gratification in the yard. I think it's pretty obvious really when it changed. And that was when digital first came in and hit OD in the markets. And then suddenly there was this instant gratification and [00:09:00] everybody could do it. The cameras were amazing, then they're getting even more amazing, every year, um, Became a photographer.
[00:09:07] Pete: There's I mean, if you look on the internet, there's so many Joe blogs, photography.com, websites, it's crazy. And they never used to be, they used to be just sort of a much harder core people that were that really did want to, they believed in what they were doing and it was, it was all about dedication.
[00:09:27] Pete: And now it's more casual. I think there are more images today being looked at than ever before. But very much fewer being sold. And so, and the competition on top of that is greatly magnified not only by the number of people involved in taking pictures, but also the fact that the venues or the the magazines, for example, they've all shrunk in size and a lot of them have gone off the shelves in the first place.
[00:09:57] Pete: So. Once you take out, most magazines have [00:10:00] got one of the 10 top animals in them. You know, at least a polar bears, emperor penguins, gorillas, lions, tires, whatever. And they, they often appear. So once you've taken those out those little face life for somebody that's trying to sell an image to make, keep them alive.
[00:10:18] Pete: A lot of the people that are taking digital images now have a day job as well. They're quite happy to give the majority for free and to just for the satisfaction of seeing it published. So all in all it it collapsed. I mean, it hasn't dried up completely, but it basically collapsed. And I think anybody coming into the field today has to realize that, and they either have to have a very novel approach to something or novel subjects that can kickstart them at least because the days of the Humdrum, you know, run of the mill portraiture.
[00:10:53] Pete: That's long gone. It's about storytelling now. but we as conservation photographers tend to be on the side [00:11:00] of negative stories because that's what they're are most of. It's great when you're gonna, uh, heartwarming a positive story. and then you've got the problem with the magazines that are still existing, that they don't want to fill a magazine and negativity either.
[00:11:16] Pete: You know? So all in all it's it's a mission. Yeah. I'm trying to sort of have another look at my Instagram account, which I haven't really visited for awhile. Um, told that I need, need to be there. So. Okay. So one of the things that I was told yesterday was that the key to Instagram is you've got to get somebody to stay on your page and look at that picture for three seconds or more.
[00:11:38] Pete: And I almost cried. I thought that was just such a crime, you know, that you can only be bothered to look at a picture for. Up to three seconds. And I think that's the problem. The more and more images that are out there, then less and less time people have on an image and therefore the less and less [00:12:00] impact that image or that story might have a, and this is just diluted in the wash of everything else.
[00:12:07] Pete: I think, yeah, when there was some serious stories and serious issue issues and serious reporting about things positive or negative people took more time to appreciate them and understand them than they do today.
[00:12:21] Jaymi: Hmm, that's really interesting.
[00:12:23] Jaymi: I'm hearing a lot about how, you know, you've watched the fall in many ways, of the ability to get your stories, your images into magazines. There is a social media platform. That platform is also very challenging as well to be able to get attention, keep attention, to stop the scroll, get people, to read the caption, get people to really engage in some way.
[00:12:45] Jaymi: One of the other things that you do that I know you are exceptional at is leading tours. How does that impact conservation as well? When you are face-to-face with, with photography guests or people who are just [00:13:00] really into this location, do you feel that that has maybe an even better edge for conservation education?
[00:13:07] Pete: Well, the whole tour thing is quite interesting. I think what happened when digital sort of hit the scene, if you like. The key was that instead of a potential plant personnel there wanting to buy your Jaguar picture because you had a beautiful Jaguar picture, it all changed to them wanting to take their own Jaguar picture.
[00:13:30] Pete: And so the best person to ask was the guy that taken one himself. You know, you were to go in to go how to go and how to approach the, the cat, et cetera, et cetera. And so photography sort of reinvent the art of photography and taking pictures, reinventing himself as the art of leading towards, and showing other people how to do it and where to do it.
[00:13:52] Pete: And I think almost without exception, no matter how high up the ladder they are, or my [00:14:00] fellow photographers are in some way or other engaged in this kind of. I did make the exception. I do lead to us by deliberately, but I, uh, completely shied away from leading photograph at workshops with a very particular reason, because I'm really, I'm not a photographer per se.
[00:14:23] Pete: Some people just want to be a photographer. They want them, they know all the little specs of the camera and all those kinds of things. And they just want to take the pictures, take the pictures. And for me, I've got little Japanese guidances in my camera and he does everything for me, you know, that's fine.
[00:14:37] Pete: I don't need, and I don't just need the picture. I never have just needed the picture. I'm nothing, if I'm not a conservationist. And I use photography as the tool to my end game, which is conservation. That's why I take pictures. It's not because I need the picture, you know? Uh, and so I shied away from that because it would bore me to
[00:14:59] Pete: You know, [00:15:00] telling me what, okay, set there, you set up your tripods, point in that direction, f/8, 250th of a second four mil lens. And you should get that back over in that corner any minute, you know, whatever. I mean, what I've done, I do lead to us and thank you for saying I do live good tools. I, I believe I do.
[00:15:19] Pete: But I'm very much more orientated towards I like families. I like the kids. Not because I'm, I don't have kids in my own, but because you take a couple of kids to Galapagos and they're at school, but they don't know that you can change their lives with a trip like this. And you can really, really direct them and they they're unaware, but they there's something subliminal happens to them on these trips.
[00:15:48] Pete: I've had many letters over the years back from parents or, or, um, after trips. Sorry. I don't know what happened. And from school teachers that have come to their, uh, brought [00:16:00] their, their parents in say, I don't want to happen to Joe, but he's completely changed. You know, he wants to help all the poor, you know, or whatever it might be.
[00:16:09] Pete: And that's where I want to make a difference. I think that that's so, yes, I'm there as a photographer, I can offer as much advice as you want photographically. And I don't, I don't care if you've got a 600 mil lens or an iPhone, I will still put you in the best position understanding the wildlife behavior.
[00:16:31] Pete: And, uh, I pride myself in that for the longest time possible and explaining things as we go along. And so I don't care what you, what you've got in your hand, but the point is we're still enjoying the same Emotion understanding and learning. And another thing that I pride myself in again, but another thing I'm not shy of, let's say that is I'll give you all the bad with the good.
[00:16:58] Pete: So you come to Galapagos [00:17:00] and I will, you'll have an amazing time as a question, but I'm, I'm definitely gonna tell you all the problems. You know, you may think is wonderful because you're there for a slice of time, but I've been doing this for 30 years and I know the trends and there was going on or know that some problems have gone away, but others more important uh, ahead of us still.
[00:17:22] Pete: So those kinds of things, I want people to be aware. I want them to go. Having had a holiday and a good time and a fun time. We tell lots of stories, all the jokes and all the rest of it, but I want them to go away understanding the situation. And it's not about photograph. It's about the destination and how we can change it, how we can benefit, even if it's just their word of mouth, when they go back hey the Galapagos is great, but did you know there's avian flu in the penguin population and things like that?
[00:17:49] Pete: So, yeah, it's I lead to us, but for different reasons, I think that a lot of.
[00:17:56] Jaymi: I feel like there's kind of a kinship in the way that I like to [00:18:00] kinship with you. And the way that I like to approach tours too, is it really doesn't matter to me what equipment you bring.
[00:18:05] Jaymi: and I don't necessarily connect with the people who are only there to collect images as if they're trophies, but really they're to experience and to kind of immerse themselves in an experience. And in that so much natural history comes into play. You may come in thinking that you're part of a photo tour, but you're going to actually get natural history.
[00:18:24] Jaymi: You're going to get stories. You're going to get conservation information. And I'm curious if you've ever noticed in a tour. Folks coming in kind of expecting one thing, you know, this is a great holiday. They're going to learn from this amazing photographer. They're going to go home with this huge album of amazing images.
[00:18:41] Jaymi: They can show off to their friends. Do you ever notice the way that they end up approaching taking images by the end of the tour has shifted because of everything that they're learning as they're alongside you?
[00:18:52] Pete: Um, it's a, it's a fair question. I think that to answer that in part, I would [00:19:00] say that people, if they do come or gung-ho for photography, they often have a sense of sort of desperation.
[00:19:08] Pete: You've got to get that image, that image, and you know, if we miss an image, but we've seen a thing. Then it doesn't become important. It does, as what I would like to happen on the trip, it becomes less and less important if you do miss the image, but you've understood something or you've watched it and this being good.
[00:19:24] Pete: For example, here I am sitting in South Africa right now, but I know up in Kruger there's probably a line on kill right now. I'm not there either. I'm not getting that message right now. But I know it's happening and that, that should, that's almost enough, you know? As long as the lion still there
[00:19:41] Jaymi: What has been some of those moments for you where I'm kind of imagining, you know, Sean Penn's character and the secret life of Walter Mitty, the remake where he finally, it goes tracking to get in front of the snow leopard and then the snow leopard appears and.
[00:19:58] Jaymi: He doesn't even bother [00:20:00] touching the camera. He says, no, I'm just gonna S you know, some moments you just need to live inside of. Have you ever had moments like that in the field where you're like, this is just so I'm just going to live this. I'm not even going to photograph it.
[00:20:11] Pete: Well, it happens every day almost I live as you know, right next to the ocean here.
[00:20:17] Pete: And I've got, a pond just in front of here, and I've got a full on wildlife garden. It's all done everything for it. But one of the things that's been coming in regularly is a family of otters the cape clawless otter which is very rewarding, even though they do trash wild water lives and make a big mess, sort of learnt that their game is how can I cause maximum damage in the shortest period of time. And so they do that regularly, but anyway, I go down, pre-dawn in the dark still. And I sit in the beach once they finished up at my pond they come down, swim through the ocean, they come up the beach and go to their dam.
[00:20:54] Pete: And this morning, seven of them, there's five adults and two pups. They, [00:21:00] for the only, the second time I've been, I've been doing this for every day, for eight months. I didn't do it while I was awaiting Ecuador now, but basically I go every morning and yeah, I could get great pictures a little bit dark this morning the point is that the guys came two meters from me today, which is very, very special.
[00:21:19] Pete: And it wasn't a photograph at moment. It was just a moment to. Take it in and, and thing. Well, they they're cure curious of me, you know, and I'm curious with them too. So sometimes it's better just not to look through a piece of glasses, mother, watch TV, you know, and just see it for yourself.
[00:21:39] Jaymi: Okay. Now I really do want to know about your wildlife garden and what you've done because so many photographers kind of dream of being able to create a space around themselves that welcomes wildlife and, and is that sanctuary in and of itself?
[00:21:53] Jaymi: So will you tell us what you've done to create this wildlife garden?
[00:21:57] Pete: And it was [00:22:00] it was in a pretty bad state of repair and there was just mostly lawn and it was just sterile. Two dimensional lawn, you know, and so that's all gone is we've got very much a three dimensions now. And the whole point is that you create crevices and habitats and niches and what I've done, I've concentrated on trying to attract frogs we live in a wetland area largely as well, but the frogs are suffering badly because they're doing too much drainage of surface water off the land.
[00:22:33] Pete: So the tadpoles don't get enough time to metamorphose et cetera, et cetera. So I'm trying to give them a bit of sanctuary here. And it's all about crevices essentially. So where I can, I've never use cement, just loose bricks and crevices and stuff, and I've got nine, a water collection, big water collection, drums, huge, huge drums, collect all the rain water that falls upon and just planting all locally endemic [00:23:00] plants.
[00:23:00] Pete: If you've basically got. Insects and for insects, you need flowers, but if you've got insects, then you can support everything else. Because it sort of goes up the food chain and then you've got the birds. So you've got the frogs, you've got things that eat frogs, got marsh news coming every day.
[00:23:17] Pete: I've got the otters every day and stuff like that. So you just build up the food chain, but you've got to start the base and create habitat for even things you don't want. But you know, they're going to get eaten and, and sort of goes on. So it's, you know, it's been very rewarding. And at that time I have to think COVID four because we started the ponds in January, 2020 but it's, it's doing very well.
[00:23:39] Pete: It's a quite little Haven now. We've got all kinds of things coming in and it brings in the mammals, you know, the genets the antelope and stuff we've got coming in.
[00:23:46] Jaymi: It sounds like such an Eden. Did you do a lot of research to figure out what types of native plants you wanted to plant knowing like what you ultimately wanted to attract
[00:23:57] Pete: you?
[00:23:57] Pete: Basically, because we're right on [00:24:00] the edge of, we got a lot of sea spray, you it's trial and error, whatever grows, a lot of stuff gets hammered by the saltier. But yeah, you, you replicate, what's close to you in a natural setting basically, but we've got a Greenbelt right in front of us. So there's, there's a lot of good recruitment from that.
[00:24:17] Jaymi: So you built this kind of with an aim to bring in frogs and you're bringing in otters as well with GA otters, but otters eat frog. Like how, how are you doing in terms of that?
[00:24:29] Pete: And the end of the day, it's all about habitat. We've had king fishes, little Malecon king kingfishers in here as well. And so, you know, all those things yeah, they're going to eat what you're trying to save, but in the end of the day, part
[00:24:43] Jaymi: it, if you can get a predator in there, it's a good sign.
[00:24:48] Jaymi: Wonderful, wonderful. Well, are there things that you miss about living in Ecuador?
[00:24:53] Pete: You know, I was there for so long, about 34 years or so. I lived all over the [00:25:00] country on the coast in Galapagos for three years in the Amazon three years and then more likely in Quito. So I sort of got to know it pretty well.
[00:25:09] Pete: It was my home. It was much more so than England do I hail from, but it was I'm always ready for change too. So I don't miss it in the sense that I just accept that I'm moving on to a different chapter. And and I embrace change. I think change is as good at, you know, and travel as good. I mean, was it mark Twain said travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.
[00:25:34] Pete: And I think that's one of the reasons that we do this travel company as well, because it puts people in front of, I mean, like for example, in in, we do trips to Mongolia and we, we spend four days on or three, three to four days on horseback with the eagle hunters out in the west Mongoliia. And we travel with their Eagles to, to a festival is dark and staying gas on routes and all the rest of it.
[00:25:57] Pete: And the people are so, so nice. [00:26:00] And the, the clients love the people, et cetera, et cetera. But they're
[00:26:05] Pete: And so you can break down a prejudice, you know, that one might have against Muslims, which is currently going on in the states and around the world created by narrow-mindedness and prejudice.
[00:26:18] Pete: But if we can break all those barriers down, then it's all also part of the bigger picture, the bigger conservation picture. And, and I believe that you have to love the people if you're going to do any conservation in the first place. Anyway. So if you know anybody, who's intimately involved with an area that you are interested in helping to conserve, you have to look after them too.
[00:26:41] Pete: You know, you have to, otherwise they're going to get all uh, miffed and not care about it. Anyway, unless they've got something. Did they can be proud of something that they can get out of the area as well. So I, I, don't only liked to photograph wildlife, but a lot of indigenous [00:27:00] cultures around the world as well.
[00:27:01] Pete: I find fascinating.
[00:27:02] Jaymi: Well, so let's dive into your travel company that, that you and Renee run, because one, I really want to come on one or multiple tours with you because I hear again and again, I've never heard a bad thing about a tour that you've led, whether it's with oceanic society or your own tours.
[00:27:19] Jaymi: But also just the way that you approach conservation and approach bringing people into an area. So personal like life altering, like you said, so how did you start this company? What was kind of the, the evolution of it?
[00:27:35] Pete: I've always enjoyed. Mixing with strangers. And I, I'm not shy to walk into a crowded room and just start many people.
[00:27:46] Pete: You know, it doesn't bother me. The very first people I met here. For example, just as an example is Walked into this restaurant, we just arrived. And I looked around and I said to myself, okay, those guys look interesting, went over and talked to them. I [00:28:00] said, Hey guys, I've just moved here. Just so I'd introduce myself.
[00:28:03] Pete: Who are you? And so we got talking and became friends of theirs. They, they, they're super interesting people. They happen to be the parents of Craig foster. Who's the protagonists of my octopus teacher and all that. And what have you, et cetera, et cetera. So, you know, that doesn't bother me. In fact, I relish it, I enjoy it.
[00:28:24] Pete: So to travel and meet new people, there's always been something that I've enjoyed. How we got into our own travel company is as a result of having worked for another travel company, I was living in the Amazon, uh, with Renee. She'd already moved down there with me and a travel company from the states from Oregon actually, well, some of the founders were living in Oregon.
[00:28:45] Pete: They came through. I was the guide led the tours. They liked my style. They said, do you want to be in Antarctica in November? And I said you know, absolutely. When I wasn't sure those sounded cold, but, [00:29:00] and stayed the whole season and just worked with them for many, many years going around the world.
[00:29:07] Pete: And then once we finished doing that, we went full on only into photography and then came back into, into travel stroke photography as well. So it was not my doing, it was somebody else that, uh, headhunted really got me into it.
[00:29:24] Jaymi: You mentioned earlier that storytelling is really the avenue where photography has moved into that.
[00:29:30] Jaymi: It's not about those standalone portraits. It's about the storytelling.
[00:29:34] Jaymi: Are
[00:29:34] Jaymi: there any conservation stories that you are particularly drawn to telling?
[00:29:39] Pete: well I like do like positive ones. I mean, I did a story about well sharks in a sender, what she pay in Indonesia. For example, that's a very positive story because it has a, win-win all around for the whale sharks, the tourists now going to visit and the local people. So it's got three elements of positivity.
[00:29:59] Pete: I [00:30:00] think one of the nicest stories I told probably was by the Iberian Lynx, it was the time I was photographing it. It was the, I think there were 233 lynx left in the wild. I was the first photographer to photograph it in the wild just to actually be able to show at nicely and, you know, looking serene and, and Regal was, it was good and it gave a good appreciation to the cat itself.
[00:30:29] Pete: one image in particular became the sort of the poster child and lynx conservation. And so that, that was good. I think for me though, it's the story I'm telling is the more I enjoy the story is the, I think, related to the better interaction I've had with the animal or whatever is I'm photographing.
[00:30:50] Pete: I get most enjoyment out of mammals. For a good cause I am one more easily to fellow mammal, I think, than anything else. So yeah, [00:31:00] Lynx fossa was the first guy to photograph wild fossa as well in Madagascar. And that was a good story because it was, it was new, but it was a good story for me because I've actually earned the trust of this animal.
[00:31:12] Pete: One of my greatest things right or greatest levels of satisfaction that I can get from my work is to earn the trust of a predator an animal that really is so widely, you can probably never even hardly see it, let alone earn his trust, but to earn the trust of a predator like the otters this morning, either lynx like fossa and all those things that is sacred to you.
[00:31:38] Pete: That's, you know, it says I'm doing my job well, and I'm actually understanding the animal. And it's not fearing me. It's not in a position that is always in the state of flight. So that's what I, I think I most enjoy from a personal level. It doesn't mean it's got any commercial entity to it, but I think it probably shows in the [00:32:00] images, if you can get into an images of an animal without you know, just by putting in the time, really,
[00:32:06] Pete: if there's anything that you like, one bit of Sage advice that you would give to anyone moving into wildlife photography, especially when they've picked up a camera and they're just kind of finding their way into what draws them the most.
[00:32:20] Pete: And they discover wildlife is really what it, what it's about for them. Is there a piece of advice that you would give as they kind of enter into that realm?
[00:32:29] Pete: It's very hard today. To give that kind of advice. An old Sage like myself, who's watching the industry just take off in a completely different direction. Unknown to me is very hard to give advice because I can't predict the future of wildlife photography necessarily. But I would say that it's important to know why you want to do it.
[00:32:57] Pete: What is it that's going to [00:33:00] give you the most satisfaction. If you're having fun, if you're enjoying what you do, you're going to do it better. Don't do it because you think you should don't do anything because you saw somebody else do it and you want to do it like they did try and find your own style, but try and you, you may be really, really excited by dragonflies, And so. Yeah, just go and photograph the hat and the dragonflies, you know, because there's a lot of cool ways you could do that. And they tell a fabulous story because that the little known people see them whizzing past, but nobody really knows much about a dragon fly, for example, you know, so find a niche.
[00:33:41] Pete: I think the days of being a broad photographer are dwindling. And it's, it's about a niche market as well. And, and the, once you get into something, the more you're going to get out of it.
[00:33:54] Jaymi: oh, I love that. I'm going to quote that[00:34:00]
[00:34:01] Jaymi: the more you get into something, the more you're going to get out of it. I love that. Well, for anyone who is listening to this and is like, I need to go hang out with Pete on a tour. I want to be out in the field with him. How do they get hold of.
[00:34:17] Pete: you know, going back to what I said earlier, my forte.
[00:34:20] Pete: Although I take pictures and certainly took pictures for living. My forte is understanding wildlife, understanding behavior being out there and watching our watch, watch, watch what, and anybody that comes out with me, we're going to sit around and just watch stuff. Okay. You might have a camera with you, but it's, it's understanding it's learning the behavior and stuff.
[00:34:45] Pete: I mean, I think that's my forte really. I mean, you know, it's, I'm not out there leading photo specific tools anymore, so you're talking to the wrong people. If they want to come to me to [00:35:00] learn how to take pictures and carry the big lens and say, you asked me what to do with it. That's not what it's about.
[00:35:06] Pete: Yeah, certainly. I mean, I've got plenty of friends that will do that happily, but me, it's much more interesting to understand the animal
[00:35:17] Pete: the way the world is going is there's just too much disconnect between ourselves and the natural world. And it's only getting worse. We need to promote connectivity and understand where our resources come from. In plastic at the end of the day, you know, it, it still comes as a petroleum product.
[00:35:38] Pete: It still is derived from nature. So we are entirely independent upon nature and the state of our wild ness and wilderness to survive and apart from the ecosystem services and all of us. And I think that's the biggest story is to change attitudes, change perceptions. Personally my biggest ever accolade[00:36:00] having, you know, I've become being a winner in top competitions, being too, wildilfe photographer of the year and all that sort of stuff, but you can throw those aside because at the end of the day, it's just a photograph. The judges have judged as a, as a good photograph. My biggest accolade probably came from, I was doing a talk for the Ecuadorian government in Switzerland.
[00:36:21] Pete: It was on a big travel fair thing. And I was the keynote speaker for Equador. And I talked about all the bio-diversity that for the office, which is huge. afterwards, one of the people that come from Ecuador, she was a student and she came as a helper. She came up to me and said, Hey Mr. Peter, Oxford is very nice to me.
[00:36:39] Pete: I see. Thanks. Nice to meet you too. And so on, she's made to understand, she said in Ecuador or my university, they taught how Pete Oxford has changed the way Ecuadorians viiew their own country. And that's what it's about to me. Creating that change hand and making people see the value [00:37:00] of what they may take for granted or while they don't understand that is important or necessary.
[00:37:05] Pete: And that's what we could do through photography. What is, what is a conservation photographer, basically? What is a conservation photograph? it transcends culture, age, gender language, all those barriers that the written word might have. And it does so instant.
[00:37:24] Pete: And that's the power of a photograph, if you can just, wow. That's what it's about is transcending instantly all those barriers in the power of, of a photograph.
[00:37:35] Pete: And I, I think one of the basic rung of the ladder for conservation in general, not just a conservation photographer, but is to create a sense of pride going back to the people that live in association with whatever you're tying to trying to protect.
[00:37:52] Pete: If you got no sense of pride or they haven't, then there's no way you're going to protect anything. They've got to be [00:38:00] proud of what you've gotten. For example I'm not here to try and blow my own trumpet, but just as an example, I did many, many years ago, I did a book on Ecuador just by the four regions of Ecuador
[00:38:11] Pete: I usually use. I do a Spanish edition and an English edition. Usually the Spanish edition saturates it only about two and a half thousand locally in the Ecuadorian market. I did this book and it kept reprinting in Spanish. It kept reprinting the Spanish and, and the big bookshop at the time they, they said, this is the best seller we've ever had of this style of book in Spanish.
[00:38:36] Pete: And it turns out we sort of analyze why. And it's basically because there was nothing negative in it. It was all. And the market where the people that who were going from Ecuador up to the states, wanted to show off their country, and so there was a pride, they had pride in the country through positive photographs.
[00:38:55] Pete: Had I chucked a little chapter at the end and say, Hey guys, but what you're doing is actually [00:39:00] cutting down rainforest and you doing this and doing the other, they wouldn't have bought it. They couldn't have been proud of. But they were proud on the basis that it was positive. Look at where they live, they're their home.
[00:39:13] Pete: And I think it's crucial to go there. Yeah.
[00:39:18] Jaymi: That ties right back into what you said earlier about if you expect to provide a conservation effort or assist in one or lead one, whatever it may be, you have to get the community involved. The community has to be there alongside you, wanting to champion it being part of the conversation, wanting that to actually happen, to really, really make that impact.
[00:39:39] Jaymi: And it sounds like this book started that conversation in a really big way because you provided that source of pride.
[00:39:46] Pete: Yeah. I mean, I've done others since, and I put all of them quite a few, but they do have negative connotations, but I've tried to make it a, in a lot of lightheartedness throughout as well.
[00:39:57] Pete: But, but nevertheless, it was an interesting [00:40:00] lesson I think that is a lesson we should start with, if we're going to try to do any serious conservation work say, don't do this, don't do that. Keep out of here, you know?
[00:40:09] Jaymi: Right, right.
[00:40:11] Pete: I've done mostly a hardback books for photo led. I did one I liked on Guyana, for example let's get the name of that name that she'd been Rapinui rediscovering loss world or something it's called. One of the ones I like is about the Waorani tribe. I spent quite a bit of time with Waorani essentially a stone-age tribe.
[00:40:30] Pete: Largely altered recently. Yeah. Through contact with the oil. But in there in the Ecuadorian Amazon another one about the Tipitina, which I also like, and that was very important, but those books are, for example, the warranty book. It's not a book that I went out and said, I'm going to do a book. I'm going to do a book a while.
[00:40:49] Pete: This is going to be a good book. It's a book that developed because. The as long story, I can't get into the details, but it was basically the Ecuadorian government was asking the [00:41:00] world for a $3.5 billion, which was half the value of that oil left in a certain part of the Yasuni national park biosphere reserve.
[00:41:09] Pete: And part of the area was occupied by Waorani and two uncontacted tribes. And so I put this book together, I did it in nine weeks. It was very quick because it had to be timely. It was a very important message that had to get out to to our government and the people of Ecuador as well. And the book was essentially what we stand to lose.
[00:41:31] Pete: If you start destroying the Waorani area area. So I did that came out quite nicely. The president of Ecuador then republished it in the presidential edition. And he gave that as the was one of the official gifts to the, all the OPEC member nation attendees at the big conference where he was deliberating on this, uh, this idea.
[00:41:53] Pete: So it worked, it was a project with a purpose short lifespan, but it worked . The [00:42:00] one I've just done now, it's just come out this couple of weeks ago.
[00:42:03] Pete: So it's called trampled by tapier and other other tales from a globe trotting, naturalist. It's a paperback. It's my first ever paper bank. And the idea there is why would I do that? It's it's about. It's a lot of short stories about all the Knoll, but many places that we've been to in the little anecdotes and things that have happened there basically encourage people to travel in the sense of going back to the mark Twain quote, you know, travel is fatal to prejudice bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, you can throw in there and a disconnect as well, if you want to lose those things.
[00:42:39] Pete: So get people to travel, get them to understand what's going on around the world. They don't just live in the world is not their little bubble. It's bigger than that. And it's all interconnected. So do that make it fun. So there's some funny stories about mishaps and found to various clients on rude and myself included.
[00:42:55] Pete: It's called wildlife thread throughout, and it's got subliminal conservation [00:43:00] messages. but basically there's a lot of conservation that I draw on as well throughout the book. So it's, it's a first try and a paperback. Let's see how.
[00:43:08] Jaymi: Oh, that's wonderful. Well, I will be picking up a copy for sure.
[00:43:12] Jaymi: And Pete, thank you so much for spending time with us telling your stories and for all of the work that you have done over decades to make measurable, real actual conservation impact. So many of us want to make a difference, and it's really hard to measure that it's really hard to see if you are truly making a difference and to be able to look towards someone like you and see how you've truly made a measurable difference and to use that as inspiration and something to aspire to is really, really critical.
[00:43:43] Jaymi: So thank you for all of the hard work that you've done over the years.
[00:43:47] Pete: Yeah. Pleasure. And then just go back to that question. You asked me what's the young photographers to do. I, I will always preach concentrate if you're gonna be a conservation concentrate in your backyard. I mean, when I was in Ecuador, my backyard happened [00:44:00] to be.
[00:44:01] Pete: The Galapagos in the Amazon too, as I've done a lot of working, but they, they sound exotic and they sound well, you know, but it's not, it's just my backyard. I just happened to be living in Ecuador. My backyard right now is the customer biosphere reserve. And that's where I'm focusing all my efforts. And, but it will make a major impact if if we can steer things in the right direction, you know, so practice yard back yard is what, you know, best.
[00:44:26] Pete: You don't have to go far field. Even if you live in a city, there's a whole host of things in the city that need addressing. Yeah. So, yeah. Well, thank you,
[00:44:38] Jaymi: Uh, it's a wonderful to talk with you and not as such a beautiful note to end on too, is the fact that there are conservation stories happening exactly where you are, and you don't need to travel to do that, though.
[00:44:49] Jaymi: As we've learned, traveling will help you see things more clearly more openly and to be able to relate to people on a much more interconnected level.[00:45:00]
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