iLCP Featured Fellow – Staffan Widstrand
iLCP Senior Fellow Staffan Widstrand was born 1959. Early in his career he was a picture editor, a nature tour guide and a nature tour production manager. Since 1990 he has been a full time independent professional photographer, working in long term projects. The winner of numerous international photography and book prizes and awards (11 in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 5 in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Image of the Year in Sweden, 9 in the Emirates Wildlife Photographer of the Year, appointed ”Nature Photographer of the Year” in Sweden and 4 times the WWF Panda book award). Author of 16 books, a founder of the Swedish Ecotourism Association and main consultant behind its quality label ”Nature’s Best”, a founder of the Swedish National Carnivore information centre ”The Big Five”, a founding fellow of the ”International League of Conservation Photographers, (ILCP) and a founder of the mass communication initiative ”Wild Wonders of Europe”, which to date has reached 800 million people with its images and messages. He is one of the founders of the Wild Wonders of China initiative. He is also one of the founders of the cutting-edge nature conservation initiative ”Rewilding Europe”. Widstrand was in 2012 awarded the ”Golden Streamer” (”Gouden Wimpel”) – the highest award from the Dutch Postcode Lotteries. He has been the Head judge for nature and a finals jury member in the World Press Photo competition (WPP), twice a jury member in The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, a jury member in the Russian national nature photo competition ”The Golden Turtle”, a jury member of the ”Xishuangbanna Photo Festival Competition” as well as of the “Humanity Photo Awards” in China. Outdoor Photography magazine has called him “One of the World’s most influential nature photographers”. Widstrand is a Nikon Ambassador since 1997, and a National Geographic Explorer since 2009.
We had the opportunity to hear from Staffan and his views on conservation, photography, and what’s up next for him.
- ILCP: What conservation issue are you most concerned with right now and why?
The over-arching Number One issue is of course the massive, galloping overpopulation of Planet Earth. This in its turn, drives all other conservation problems – climate, resource extraction, energy, real estate development, over-exploitation, biodiversity loss, etc. More people, more consumption of all the Earth’s limited resources. Nobody seems to want to talk about this issue, about family planning strategies, contraception etc. However, I feel I can’t do much about that, so then my chosen focus has instead been to try to reach out to massive audiences worldwide to showcase our precious natural heritage, the emotional values of it, the ancient cultural connections with it, the economic value of it and the sheer joy of it. For me, my focus is especially on wildlife. Telling positive stories, trying to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that we can make a difference, that it matters what we decide, that there can be a wildlife comeback quite rapidly, if we just allow it to. To show the positive examples, the ”Yes, we can”. To showcase that nature conservation actually works. And to try to rewild previously wild but now damaged areas, back to a more normal, wilder state. Right now, I am mainly working together with a tight team on trying to build up a Wild Wonders of China project, showcasing the natural heritage of China to the Chinese and to the world, so that 100s of millions of people will begin to better appreciate the amazing biodiversity of this Biodiversity Hotspot country. When that happens, the pressure from the Chinese market would most probably also ease considerably on wildlife resources elsewhere in the world, like elephants and rhinos. Wild Wonders of China uses a lot of inspiration and experiences from the Wild Wonders of Europe project, but it will be much bigger, better, with much more social media and TV focus.
- What do you like best about being in the field?
That is the real thing, that is what it is all about. I like the combination of the peacefulness of nature and the stress and hard work during painstakingly many hours trying to get the images one wants. Nature provides such healing to a modern city person. And I just love being out there and trying to cover nature in images that can be used for strong, emotional communication.
- What is your best scary/funny/inspiring story from the field?
I have never really had really scary things happen to me in nature. Sure, there have been some close-camping encounters with lions, cobras, fer-de-lance snakes and polar bears, lightning strikes, malaria issues, but I never felt really threatened. All really scary events in my 26 years as a full time professional wildlife photographer, have been connected to people. People driving cars while drunk, people with guns and machetes, drunk bastards of different kinds, and I have been physically attacked in the forest and also had threats to my life and my family delivered on phone by violent wolf-haters – yes, but never really by wildlife or nature. Nature is extremely peaceful.
- What value do you see in an organization like iLCP?
As one of the founders of it, back in 2005, I saw it as the one international platform who could start really promoting the value of emotionally strong imagery, to touch peoples hearts and knock them out of their socks. I thought this would be easy to understand for the worldwide conservation movement. There I was proven wrong unfortunately, with only a few exceptions (f ex Rewilding Europe, WILD Foundation, WWF and CI) generally the conservation movement are still using really crappy, cheap images, often shot by their own staff with poor artistic skills and poor equipment and at the wrong time of day. The result is that nature conservation is often perceived by a wide public as boring, academic, sectarian, introvert, colourless, un-emotional and technical. If anything, I feel it has gotten worse during the years since 2005. In spite of all our joint efforts so far. But that is definitely not saying iLCP hasn’t played a role, because it really has, it is really a weight on the right side of the scales. What I also liked from the start, was the idea of photographers working together more often and in bigger projects. I think we need to think much bigger and less egoistic and formalistic, we need to join forces much more, working together. We will hire a number of iLCP photographers for the Wild Wonders of China, as we did with the Wild Wonders of Europe project before.
- What makes a great conservation photographer?
Passion for nature and its future, knowledge about the subject matter/issues/people, artistic skills, economic survivability expertise, social talent, story-telling talent, networking skills, keen curiosity, sales skills, negotiation skills, tech skills, social media expertise and the willingness to work around the clock at times, 7 days a week, for years – nothing much really…. 😉
- Where in the world would you wish to photograph next, and why?
In China definitely, preferably in Tibet, Xinjiang and in the Qingling Mountains/Shaanxi, not to forget Inner Mongolia again (where I spent the past two weeks on assignment). And Yunnan of course, about five different areas there. And the rainforests of Hainan Island… And of course Papua New Guinea, where I will be on assignment for the IrisFoundation. Let us see what comes first in time.
Do you want to support Staffan and his work? Visit the websites below to learn more!