One useful diversion for me during the last colder and longer than usual winter was designing and building a website for our local U3A (University of the 3rd Age). I built it using my favourite piece of blogging/Content Management System software, WordPress. My efforts were well received and my customers seemed very pleased – so pleased, in fact, that they bought me (us – Carol was included) tickets to see one of my heroes, Andy Rouse. Most unfortunately, Carol had to attend a family funeral on the day in question and couldn’t make it so I took along Steve, one of the U3A committee members, who had procured the tickets and seemed very interested in Andy’s work.
Andy Rouse is my favourite professional wildlife photographer and is currently touring with his 10 year anniversary presentation; touring, that is, between his photographic trips abroad. Venues are a little restricted, as were our possible dates for attending, so the closest that could be arranged was last Thursday in Ascot hosted by the Bracknell Camera Club. Arrive at 7:30 PM for an 8:00 PM kick-off, it said. Since the M25 is currently full of road works and even worse than normal, I allowed two hours and chose the cross-country route through Princes Risborough and High Wycombe. We arrived in time to enjoy a pre-presentation curry in Ascot.
Andy is a very dynamic showman who clearly loves presenting almost as much as he loves his subjects and photographing them. The show, and show it was, essentially summarizes his 10 years as a professional using a wide selection of his favourite or more illustrative images. It was far from all talk; Andy presented a couple of sequences animated to music (the pictures, not Andy), together with a couple of bits of video, all of which added to the dynamism. It was very educational: I now know a whole lot more about toilet arrangements in the opposing extremes of the African savannah and the Arctic than I did before. Of course, essentially it comes down to his awe-inspiring photographs, though. Seeing his images, some of which were sized to a mere 500 pixels, projected onto what must have been a 20ft screen and remaining pin sharp was a joyful experience. I have a vivid image of a snowy owl in flight, side on, turning its head to fix the camera with a piercing yellow stare, its wings on the limit of the downbeat and all absolutely frozen, crystal clear. Quite amazing! I lost count of the times I muttered, “how on earth did you do that?” under my breath. The show lasted about two hours (plus an intermission) and I think they were the shortest two hours of my life. I was utterly captivated.
The really nice thing about Andy Rouse is that he is as much, if not more, conservationist as he is photographer. He exhibits and preaches great respect for all his subjects. “I care about the animals but I don’t care about the camera kit”, he said at one point having recently dropped almost £20K-worth of Nikon equipment into two pockets of a safari-type vest and set off towards Rwanda’s mountain gorillas. Well, discard it in this direction, Andy, not that I could come close to doing it justice.
His latest book, Tigers, a Celebration of Life, is on sale and donates 25% of its profits to tiger conservation. Since tigers have long been my own personal favourites of the animal kingdom, I had to buy a copy. Because poor Carol couldn’t make it, I asked Andy to sign it to her. Having missed out on a most entertaining evening due to a funeral, a book subtitled “A Celebration of Life” seemed particularly appropriate.