NEWS & EVENTS
An Interview with Wildlife Photographer Dinesh Patel
Wildlife photographer Dinesh Patel’s book, The Journey Within, first published in 2009 enjoyed wide acclaim and was sold out within the first year. Dinesh has just released the second edition along with the first edition of his wildlife print collection, Wildlife of East Africa: A Photographer’s Collection at the Mattbronze Foundary Gallery in Karen, Nairobi.He reflects on his lifelong passion for wildlife in an interview with our Reporter Ramadhan Rajab. Because of Dinesh’s Parkinson’s condition, his best friend and editor of TJW, Praful Patel, facilitated the interview.
Tell us a bit about yourself
DINESH : I am a proud Kenyan. I was born in Nairobi in 1940 and have lived here all my life. From very early on, I have been fascinated by our wildlife heritage. Over the past 60 years I have spent more weekends and holidays than I can count in the bush, photographing Africa’s wildlife and wilderness and serving as an honorary game warden. Sadly, in recent years I have been unable to continue these activities as a result of my Parkinson’s disease.
Why did you publish The Journey Within?
DINESH : From the moment that I snapped my first photograph, I realized that I must capture for posterity the images of the drama and magnificence of the wildlife that I was so privileged to be witnessing. I taught myself the art of shooting wildlife with a lens on a Kodak box camera, and from there on I was in constant pursuit of that evasive perfect shot.
I graduated to a Swedish-made Hasselblad in the mid-Seventies and over the past five decades have used my instinctive knowledge and love for the bush to build a diverse collection of photographs. My dream has always been to share the experience documented in this collection of photographs with as many people as possible, making the safari experience universally accessible. The underlying goal in this dream was to do my small bit to raise awareness of the importance of wildlife conservation. I have always seen it as my essential duty to spread this message by conveying the magnificence of Africa’s natural wonders. Because I was an unknown quantity, I wasn’t able to find a publisher for the first edition, so I decided to self-publish The Journey Within. More recently, I have released another publication, Wildlife of East Africa :
A Photographer’s Collection, which is a set of ten high-quality wildlife photo prints suitable for easy framing and sharing. I am convinced that anyone who sees this collection will become an immediate recruit for the cause of wildlife conservation.
There are thousands of books on wildlife out there. What is different about your?
DINESH : There are two striking features which distinguish my book from the myriad others that are currently available. First, is its simplicity—the wildlife photography in the book is uncomplicated and pure and captures the wild as it is intended to be, unfettered with commentary and devoid of human factors. Second, building on this simplicity, I have tried to create a world that gives the reader an experience of being there next to me on this journey through the African bush.
What is upper most in your mind about the future of our wildlife heritage?
DINESH : I am saddened that the African wilderness is in rapid retreat. Too many of the creatures seen in my book are on the lamentable list of endangered species and face a bleak future. So the challenge ahead is serious and the task difficult but essential. Africa needs a future that befits its unique place in the grandeur of nature. By nurturing these natural jewels and by playing to their strengths - unique and spectacular wild legacy - Africa must become prosperous by preserving its heritage.
What is the most controversial aspect of your message in the book ?
DINESH : While the book itself does not have any controversial aspects, the underlying themes and messages on conservation do bring out the tension between those who are killing wildlife for money and those who are working to prevent that. Corruption continues to be a big problem. Much of the pressure to kill our wildlife comes from other, far away countries like China and Vietnam where there is growing demands for wildlife products such as ivory and rhino horn.
What theme or themes in your book do you believe are relevant to today’s global society?
DINESH : I would highlight two. The first is that history has taught us what happens when we loose a species. We not only lose that particular species – whether a kind of vulture or antelope or indigenous plant – but there is a profoundly negative impact to our ecosystem in losing the role played by that species. Second, wildlife conservation is not only good in terms of preserving and protecting our wildlife heritage, but it contributes to the economic development of a country and the elimination of poverty by generating livelihoods and income from tourism.
What is your most favorite safari destination?
DINESH : That is a difficult question for me. My experience is that every one of the places I have visited has its own unique attributes. But for a first-time visitor with a limited amount of time to spend, I would have to say the Masai Mara National Reserve because of its tremendous diversity and density of wildlife.
What about your favorite animal?
DINESH : Another difficult question since I love them all! But if pressed, I would have to say the leopard. I have spent a lot of time following and photographing that spectacular animal and have some beautiful shots in the book. I remember one safari in particular which started out as a three-day visit to Masai Mara. On the first day I spotted a leopard in a tree. I stayed with it for four days, tracking its every move and witnessing a kill.
Can you describe what you consider to be your most thrilling experience ?
DINESH : After a lifetime of traveling through the bush, I have had many thrilling experiences… especially with elephants. However, the one I would single out actually does not have to do with elephants, but with wild dogs in the Mara Aitong plains. This happened in 1985 when I was on a “brief” safari with my wife Hansa and our sons, Bijal and Teeku. After spotting a pack of wild dogs, I decided to follow them over several days, setting-out very early in the morning to be sure to reach their den before the adults
left to go hunting. I would then sit and watch the events unfold – from the bringing down of their prey then heading back to the den and feeding the young ones in their very unique way (by regurgitating the food). Being able to witness that entire cycle was an incredibly special experience which I have not been able to repeat.
What about your scariest experience ?
DINESH : My scariest moment has to be an encounter I had with a big adult leopard in Amboseli National Park, not too far from where I would camp. The leopard had a fresh kill and got annoyed by the clicking noise of the motor drive on my Hasselblad and jumped on the bonnet of my Land Cruiser and sat there snarling at me. The ranger who accompanied me was so scared he ducked down to the floor and hide inbetween my feet. The leopard was intent on making a point that this was his territory and kill, and was not going to move.. And my only weapon was my 500mm Hasselblad lens to push the big cat away, which did not impress the leopard. We waited… and waited … and he eventually moved away, but not without showing his full fury. The ranger later told me that his mother had survived a leopard attack while she was pregnant with him. He never missed telling this entire tale to his guests.
What advice would you have for a budding wildlife photographer ?
DINESH : Rather than focusing on just the “Big Five” or on a heard of elephants, be open minded about what you Seek on your safari. By doing so, you will come across unexpected wonders which can be captures in its element and as it is intended to be.
Finally. How can someone living in the USA or Japan help
on conservation ?
DINESH : First and foremost, visit Africa’s spectacular wildlife areas ! I have intentionally designed my book to be a guide for first time visitors going on safari to East Africa – the itinerary in the book is ideal in all respects. More generally, they can help by “spreading the message” on the importance of conservation.
Thank you very much to you and especially to Hansa for so ably facilitating communication.
DINESH : You are welcome.
Photo credits: Sokomoto Images & Praful Patel, 9 September 2009