I’m not a wildlife photographer.

I follow photographers like Laurent Baheux and Richard Bernabe on Twitter. They are wildlife photographers; Bernabe is regularly flying to Iceland or the Antarctic to capture animals all over the world, while Baheux champions conservation of animals in their own habitat with his heart-rending black and white photographs of animal families, especially big cats (my favourite).

I’m not a wildlife photographer. I take photos at the zoo here in Melbourne, far away from the wilds of the natural habitats of the animals I photograph. But it’s become something of a lifeline for me over the past couple of years, and especially the last month or so where I have been twice already.


Each of the photography styles are very different, and oftentimes you will hear photography experts tell you that it’s better to hone your skill set into one particular direction; portrait, landscape, wildlife, weddings, infants, concerts, sports, etc. This is true, and at my heart I think I will always want to be good at portraiture. I think it’s what I most want to do. But at its core I believe that when you’re doing any kind of photography you’re calling upon the same fundamental skills; your base technical skill, intuition, practice, luck, and empathy. I strongly believe that empathy is what will set you apart as a photographer. You want to evoke feeling from your photographs, and how can you do that unless you know how to feel?



I like the fact that I can use those fundamental skills in an environment wholly different to the one I was used to. In a con situation, my mind is buzzing the whole time. There is no quiet, it’s all noise. When I’m doing a portrait, I sort of go into a trance where I couldn’t tell you a lot of what happened if you asked me afterwards. I’m usually overcome with nerves and focusing on all the things I need to remember.

But when I’m taking photos of animals, it is wholly external to me. I bring what I need to, but I am completely at the mercy of a subject I can’t direct. I can’t explain what I want. I can’t even really anticipate in the same way I sort of became able to with conventions; if you did it long enough, you could begin to tell when you would need to pay attention and when you would need to make a move. I’m going to watch this guest answer this question, because it is a moving subject and their facial expression will react in a way that shows they’re touched. This is where the music builds, so someone will likely be moved by the music and throw their head in abandon. It became like a dance I knew the steps to. But this … this is like waltzing with a partner who is breakdancing. I just have to be patient and let go.

And it’s so quiet, which is something I crave.  



I acknowledge that photography at a zoo is a very sterilised version of taking photographs of animals. Going on safari and photographing wild animals would be different again, in a myriad of ways. But for awhile at least, this is my only option. I can try to frame and compose in such a way to focus on the animals themselves and not the enclosures, not the environment, but instead to try to make them and their behaviour and interactions the focal point of the photo. It’s taking small pieces of a puzzle and fashioning it into something in my control.

Given everything that happened last year, I’m just grateful that I have something that is driving me to take photos and driving me to improve. I was scared that I had lost something last year, but I feel as though I’ve taken it back.

Pete Souza & Photographic Resistance

Like a lot of people, I’ve been following ex-White House photographer Pete Souza’s Instagram and seeing his almost daily posting of photos taken during Barrack Obama’s eight year presidency, often reflecting in them differences between the current and former administration. These are equally biting, critical, melancholic. They serve as an authoritative primary document – a way of reminding us of certain aspects of history in a climate where it is becoming frighteningly easy to bury and deny even things that happened yesterday.

As well as the moral and ethical implications these reminders have, it’s also really interesting from a photography perspective. A lot of the photographs Souza is posting are photographs he has posted before; he is reposting them to highlight a point, to serve a purpose. When these were taken, it is highly likely that the original intent was not the point he is making now. Documentary photography especially is meant to embody and encompass the world we live in at a particular time. We bring to it our knowledge of what is currently happening, as well as what has happened.

However, when Souza is posting these photographs – often tagging them and captioning them with pointed descriptions – they have an entirely different message to perhaps the original one intended.


Souza was a prolific photographer – Obama wasn’t the only President he photographed – and during Obama’s administration he was with him almost every day, shooting thousands and thousands of photographs. During the beginning of Trump’s administration, he was actually going through his catalogue to pick out photos for a book he is releasing. So it was obvious that as certain things were happening, mirroring or sharply contradicting what had happened before, he would post or repost things he had seen as a form of social commentary. His captions were never outright hostile; they didn’t need to be. The photos said everything better and more succinctly than even the fiercest critic could.

For example, there has been growing criticism over the Trump administration’s responses to deadly hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Houston. Trump was accused at worst of negligence, and at best of using the size and scope of the destruction as a political and egotistical measuring tool. During all of this, Souza would post photos of the various relief efforts conducted during similar disasters during Obama’s campaign, as well as photographs highlighting the former President’s natural empathetic and selfless nature.


During the aftermath of Charlottesville, Obama tweeted a photograph that Souza had taken of him alongside a Nelson Mandela quote, which became the most liked and fourth most retweeted tweet in Twitter history, showing not only how powerful and potent Souza’s photography coupled with Mandela’s words were, but also how desperate the world was to feel some sense of humanity and empathy.


It has gotten to a point now where people are beginning to expect some form of photographic social commentary from Souza. There’s even memes about it, which he seems to find amusing. But in the comments there is also a sadness, a longing to go back to a time before. The comments are always a mixture of joy and pain, a reflection of what a country once had and a critical examination of what it has become.


I can’t speak as to Pete Souza’s original intent in his “commentary” – he has started doing a book tour where he speaks about his experiences and he apparently feigns ignorance at his “shade” and insists he is only posting his work. But you have to think that for someone who was so intimately in the shadow of a great man such as Barack Obama, it would be increasingly frustrating to see the good works and the good intent being torn down daily, and worse yet, rewritten to suit a different narrative. To be able to post a photograph that says, “No, this is how it happened,” would be a powerful act of rebellion and resistance.

Words are becoming increasingly twisted and manipulated and denied and distorted. Photographs can change context, but what they show in them at their core rarely lies.