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I recently listened to an interview of Rebecca Jackrel on The Candid Frame podcast. After listening to her talk about her passion for photography and wildlife, and seeing her beautiful, work I decided to interview her for the readers of dPS. If you enjoy this interview and would like to find out more about Rebecca and her projects, please visit her website and the Ethiopian Wolf Project.
1. How and when did you pick up the photography bug?
When I was young my brother had a darkroom in our home. I would follow him around, holding dandelions and whatnot for him to photograph and then watch in utter amazement as he processed the black and white film. The smell of the chemicals was intoxicating and watching the print appear seemed like magic.
My path through college took me in another direction but art and photography were always in a side compartment of my heart. In 2003 a gift of a digital SLR and a trip to Alaska rekindled my love of photography and it just gets stronger every year.
2. How did you get into wildlife photography?
I’ve always been a naturalist at heart. Growing up in upstate New York I had ample time to disappear into the woods to watch the deer play. After spending way too much time working in a cube in Silicon Valley I realized just how important those quiet moments shared with animals are to me. Wildlife is a natural gravitation for me.
3. What gear do you shoot with?
I am currently shooting with Nikon gear.
4. What is it about wildlife photography that interests you the most?
For me it’s the interaction. When a wild animal accepts my presence and allows me to enter their world it’s the greatest gift I know.
5. What has been your most memorable moment in the field so far?
By far my fondest moment was while working with walrus in Spitsbergen, Norway. I was in the water edging closer and closer to a young male. He gave me a few sideways glances and was seemingly disinterested in me, unlike an aggressive male who chased my companions out of the water. Embolden by his nonchalance I finally found myself within two feet of this giant when he leaned over and gently rested against me, much like a golden retriever. He had all the power and could have caused me major damage but he choose not to. For the next 15 minutes he posed for me above and below the water. When I finally decided to leave the water he escorted our zodiac back to our sailboat. It was amazing to be so completely accepted by such a large, powerful and dangerous animal.
6. How did you get involved in a wild life conservation project?
A friend at an organization I work with in San Francisco stumbled across an opportunity to travel with renowned canid researcher professor Claudio Sillero and urged me to join the group. Thirteen people from five countries and the one thing we had in common was our love of wildlife, in particular canids. The moment I saw the Ethiopian wolves they completely stole my heart.
With such a large group the photographic opportunities were sparse but the trip showed me the potential that existed to capture some amazing images to help spread knowledge of the wolves and the folks working so hard to save them. When I returned home I enlisted the help of my friend Will to embark on a five week journey during the heart of pupping season. We funded the expedition with generous contributions made through KickStarter and before I knew it I was back in Ethiopia. Now that we are back we are shouting as loud as we can about these amazing animals – our gallery show opened in Los Angeles and we have several articles about to be released and a book on the way.
7. What three tips would you give a photographer who wants to get involved in such projects?
Start locally and follow your passion. I started my path into conservation photography by working with two local organizations; asking about their image needs and donating appropriate images as I could. By fostering a relationship and building a reputation of being an easy photographer to work with, doors will begin to open where you least expect them.
Be prepared to give. When a researcher or conservation program invites you into their world you need to show your appreciation by sharing your images freely. Whether you are documenting a specific behavior, creating dramatic art or just getting clear id shots it’s all useful and appreciated.
Do your research and shoot the story. Ask every question you can think of no matter how silly it may seem. Find out the threats, what action is being taken and by whom and what is needed to help. Don’t focus on getting just a pretty picture of the animal. Get the habitat, get the people involved, document any tools used and document the cause and effect — anything and everything that can tell the story in a new and interesting way.
8. Do you have a ‘dream project’ you would like to get involved with in the future?
Anything having to do with Albatross! I have a special affinity for giant tube-nose birds and am slowly documenting the different species. I would love to join some researchers to travel to some of the sub-Antarctic islands where they nest and document all of the species in the family.