There's been a bit of an uproar in the wildlife photography community this week. One of the genre's most popular and successful photographers has been called out for turning wildlife into an accessory. What do you make of all this?
Love or hate his style, David Yarrow is considered by the public to be a legend of wildlife photography. He makes a living doing what most of us dream of. Yarrow has also invested a lot of time and energy into various wildlife-centric charities and NGOs. Within the wildlife photography community however there is a different feeling towards Yarrow. His recent shoot has highlighted this.
Jamie Joseph, Director of Saving The Wild, has drawn attention to Yarrow's recent elephant shoot and been very vocal about Yarrow's history working with unethical characters and organizations in wildlife photography (Animals of Montana.) Of note, Yarrow also has a history of triggering wild animals to get a reaction from them.
David Yarrow is arguably the most scorned person in conservation photography, for he embodies everything that is not conservation. From using wolves, bears and tigers that are enslaved to game farms with a track record for abuse; to baiting and chasing animals in the wild, it seems there is nothing he won’t do to get the shot.
Melissa Groo, an Associate Fellow at International League of Conservation Photographers, succinctly points out that:
David Yarrow is infamous among wildlife photographers for his disrespect of wildlife and what’s best for them; both wild and captive animals. He has been a long time supporter of the game farm Animals of Montana, and the owner Troy Hyde. Yarrow also openly talks about how he chases giraffes to get shots of them running. Animals are nothing more than props to him. He cares nothing for their welfare. It’s upsetting to so many, and he needs to be aware that it matters, and we are watching.
Putting a model this close to elephants is a disaster waiting to happen. Yarrow should know that. Although he has released a joint statement with Saving the Wild apologizing for the elephant shoot and the use of Animals of Montana, he should have known better. You can't clothe yourself as the champion of wildlife and then operate across the lines of well established ethics. Yarrow has clearly stated in the past that he is an art photographer, not a wildlife photographer, but that doesn't mean that he can treat his subjects without regard. Art or wildlife, he has an obligation to care for his subjects, particularly if he calls himself a conservationist.
Charlie Hamilton James, a Nat Geo photographer, implies Yarrow is an ego-warrior, a play on the rallying cry of eco-warrior:
Any photographer covering issues wildlife and conservation who puts their ego and commercial interest in front of those of their subject needs to seriously consider their motives. I have a word for these people, ‘ego-warriors’ – the term encapsulates not just the way these people approach their subjects but also how they cast and caption their work.
Joseph talks about her mission to get rid of the problematic and unethical elements of wildlife photography. In terms of putting your money where your mouth is wildlife photographer Alex de Vries, operator of Discover Churchill, takes the position that:
Deliberately disrupting an animal's behaviour and endangering its life for the sole purpose of personal gain has no business in this industry.
De Vries vows to turn down clients who can't agree with this approach on his ground based expeditions to see Churchill's polar bears. I couldn't agree more.
Yarrow and Saving the Wild's joint statement strikes most of the right notes. In respect of the elephant shoot, Yarrow says:
I unintentionally put the message out there that it’s always okay to get out of the vehicle and be in such close range with a wild animal, and it’s not – that is when things can go dangerously wrong. I have a responsibility to convey that these were exceptional circumstances, with rangers present, and my narrative should have made that explicitly clear.
And, in respect of his use of Animals of Montana, Yarrow comments:
I would like to thank Jamie Joseph for pointing out that in our staged filmmaking we need to be more thorough in our due diligence of our counter parties . . . Specifically, If animal handlers are under investigation we should not be working with them. Moving forward, we will always have a member of Movie Animals Protected on sight on any of our sets. There should be no grey areas when it come to ethics when working with wild or habituated animals.
So, what will the models and charities that Yarrow has been working with do? Apologies need to be followed by action, let's see what Yarrow does now. As Saving the Wild points out,
. . . it’s not philanthropy when animals have to suffer for the charity to benefit.