More Insight Into The "Escaped" Tiger Incident At Detroit's Packard Plant

More Insight Into The "Escaped" Tiger Incident At Detroit's Packard Plant

So if you have been watching social media this week, then you most likely heard about British photographer David Yarrow who made headlines after a tiger allegedly got "loose" during a photo shoot that was taking place in the well-known Packard Plant in Detroit. As a photographer, I am in Michigan a lot for various still and video projects throughout the year and have a lot of creative industry friends in the region. After reading the initial news reports, I decided to do a little digging of my own and went to the source to find out what REALLY happened.

I have written about Detroit in the past and how I Iove it for its various cool photoshoot locations and more than warm and welcoming creative community. If they could only do something about those winters! BRRRRRR!

David Yarrow is a British fine art photographer that often incorporates wild animals into his work. He decided to fly to Detroit and hired a professional handler to bring various animals, including the Tiger in question, to be used as props around iconic locations in Detroit. According to news reports, photo permits were filed, but there was no mention of wild animals being on set (trust me, as a long time commercial photographer and producer, cities NEED to know if you're bringing dangerous materials, people, animals, or effects to a location or you can face heavy fines, have your project shut down, or potentially face criminal charges.) Although, this was only the start of the issues that would be faced on set... (I suggest you read the article I hyperlinked in the start of the article if you have not already: www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2015/08/17/tiger/31853371/)

David Yarrow's team contacted my friend, assistant, and location scout, Anthony Barchock, after my last article about Detroit here on Fstoppers to help set up for his upcoming shoot in the region.

I met Anthony Barchock several years back. He has been an awesome resource for anything I've needed in the Detroit area. He has taken his free time to location scout for me, assisted on my shoots, referred me other really dependable assistants and crew in the region, and I've even thrown him occasional photoshoot gigs when I have been unable to take them. When he's not working, he is volunteering at animal shelters and museums or literally helping rebuilt parts of the city in his free time. "Tony" is a great guy. Now, you can imagine how shocked I was to hear news articles claiming he was uncharacteristically trying to essentially provoke a tiger with a power tool that allegedly escaped a photoshoot taking place at Detroit's Packard Plant.

File image of the Packard Plant for reference. Image supplied by Anthony Barchock. The Packard Plant is actually being revitalized and turned into condos and shopping centers, but it is a slow process.

Another file photo of the Packard Plant supplied by Anthony

Anthony Barchock expressed that he has in fact been misrepresented in the press and wanted a chance to defend himself by sharing his part of the story. Tony has been always been a stand-up guy and I wanted to give him the opportunity to share:

First and foremost the Tiger is OK, unharmed and was never loose. There was always a trainer on the lead even in the videos where it doesn’t seem like it. The power tools were used as a foreign noise to hopefully coax the tired and hot animal down the stairs. 

I was contacted by David Yarrow to be his Detroit Fixer via an article Douglas Sonders wrote about me on Fstoppers. From the get go is was not smooth or easy. I tried talking him into flying in beforehand so we could sit down and/or scout locations but that was pushed aside. I was giving him locations, sending photos, maps, ideas, etc. He did listen to suggestions and was open to ideas and only committed to two locations for certain but still had no schedule or shoot list.

The only thing known was exotic animals, a model possibly extras. One of the possible shoot locations discussed, and decided upon once he physically seen it was 5 floors up on an exposed roof. I explained to the trainers and David via email July 24th that mid-August weather in the Midwest could be hot and humid. But there was no concern or even a reply to that email. I even brought it up again in the pre shoot dinner but again no concern showed by the training team that the tiger could handle the weather and trek up the stairs. Well this was not the case and why he was laying down in the landing of the stair case. He was tired and frustrated. 

And that is where the weed whip comes into play.


After about an hour the trainers asked if I could get a leafblower. I’m in the middle of three and a half million square feet of concrete and ruins, where am I going to get that? So I texted Kari, who I have lost as a friend and contact now, who I assumed knew of the events taking place. Well she did not, David’s assistant did not tell the Packard of the animal(s) onsite. His assistant’s excuse, “they didn’t ask”. 
Kari talked with them and agreed to let them finish then go. The tiger is still stuck and the ‘gang’ David hired as extras was getting restless. 

I called my friend Andy, the gent who took the videos, and he brought over the only thing he had a weed whacker with a couple attachments. Per the trainers instructions (who was just to my left on the down stairs) we tried to ‘spook’ the tiger so he would move. The weed wacker had no string and we got nowhere near the animal with the trimmer. 

Main concern at this point is cleaning up the mess for David and getting that poor bastard into the shade and relaxed.

The worse part of it is me on film looking like I am attacking a tiger with yard implements and the reports that are half-truths or no truth at all; and for some one that works with rescue animal groups it is horrifying. 
I quit with David shortly after we got the tiger in the truck and David left for lunch while we cleaned up. I had to go to the Book Cadillac, sweaty and dirty to do so. I also had to drop off the supplies they left in my car. Even after multiple attempts while in town he made no effort to arrange a contract, payment or other means to compensate me, kept putting off physical meetings as well as his assistant who followed the same tactic. 

Since he has arrived he has pretty much run all over everyone here, cab drivers, make-up artists, even bar tenders! I will not alienate him any further and if those people want to speak or make their own posts feel free to do so. 

I've reached out to David Yarrow's team two days ago for comment but have not yet received a response. I will update this article if and when I do.

Matt LaVere in his native Detroit

I decided to also hit up my friend Matt LaVere, who is also familiar with the situation to make a comment. Matt was once a Detroit-area photo assistant to me when I came into town years back and is now a kick butt commercial photographer that often helps me find crew and resources when I need it. He knows the ins and outs of the Detroit creative community very well:

Over the last five years I have learned a lot from photo assisting some of the worlds best photographers who have come to Detroit for large and small productions. Beyond the cameras and lighting set ups, I paid attention to how each photographer handles budgets, manages client expectations, scouting locations, directing talent, and crew members. When I was assisting more frequently, I paid close attention to how the photographer would problem solve issues on set or as we’d like to say, “put out the fires”. “Being Professional” is something I take pride in and learned from amazing photographers and being an active member in the American Society of Media Photographers since 2010.

What happened on Monday was not handled professionally on many levels.

It’s unfortunate the City of Detroit and the local crew who was working with David are receiving negative press about this incident. Ultimately at the end of the shoot day, it’s any photographers role and responsibility to direct and maintain control of his/her set. They’re also responsible for everyone’s safety and well being. Based on Tony’s statement, there was no leadership, guidance, or care for anyone’s well being on set or to those in the City of Detroit. What irritated me most was David being arrogant and putting everyone including himself in danger without any emergency plan or guidelines of what is supposed to happen on the shoot day. Clearly there was no call sheet, no producer, and no real budget.

I don’t know David personally but I know a fellow production assistant, Jenn Smith, who was offering preproduction support for Tony. A couple weeks ago, I was contacted by her to ask about some resources and how to deal with difficult photographers. Judging by some her questions I could tell there was a lot of red flags about this production that would make me feel uneasy about this job. She never knew or mentioned anything about live wild animals on set.

The photographer needs to disclose everything they need for a photoshoot to locations, talent, crew members, and any additional support on set so there’s no confusion or incidents. A piece of advice for anyone offering production support is if you don’t feel comfortable doing something because of your safety, stand up for yourself and say no. No photograph is worth putting your life in danger or anyone elses.

Many out of state photographers and directors are surprised by the lack of resources in Detroit Proper for productions. For example, Dayspace Studio is the only certified rental house in the State of Michigan who has enough Profoto Packs, heads, and modifiers to outfit a large production for a typical large editorial or commercial job for the NYC/LA Photographer. They’re located 20 miles or 30-45 minutes away from Downtown Detroit assuming you’re actually moving on I-75. If you need something like props or supplies brought to set on a whim, it would take at least 45 minutes to an hour round trip to drive out somewhere in the suburbs and arrive back. Never leave any equipment in the vehicle unattended, or leave any female talent, crew members alone, especially in the Packard plant. This isn’t just Detroit’s problems but many large cities. Detroit also doesn’t have a reliable mass public transportation system like NYC or Chicago. If you want to get around in the city and the suburbs for locations you have no other option but to rent a car and commute 30 minutes to an hour per location.

I want Detroit to be represented and respected as a city that just as relevant as NYC, LA, and Chicago and be on the same playing field as them. I’ve always been vouching for the city when I traveled to NYC 5 years ago. Everyone says a lot of negative press about things and I talk about positive things about the city. There is a market here that everyone can shoot but it’s extremely competitive. I chose to stay in Detroit because the cost of living is low compared to NYC or LA, and there has always been opportunity to try different things. I wouldn’t be appropriate to say Detroit has a blank slate. There is a lot of history with a variety of local artists who have always been involved in the local art scene, it’s not anything new. We’re

I guess the art scene would be new to anyone that doesn’t live here and all they hear about Detroit is abandoned buildings, our sports teams, and Kid Rock or Eminem. What local Detroiter’s don’t like is when people make us the punch line for a cheap joke. Our background is very blue collar and Detroiter’s have a lot of loyalty and pride. Outsiders need to understand there still are people who live in the city and work relentlessly to make their rent and make a living. In the end Detroit can be a welcoming city for anyone to come visit and realize it’s historical significance and the beauty it offers.

When you come visit any city, connect with locals to make your life easier and trust their knowledge and abilities to ensure everyone’s safety. It will make you look amazing and professional to your clients!

Another side of Detroit

Matt has made a lot of good points here. One of which, is that Detroit needs to be appreciated and respected for more than its "ruin porn". Also, when prepping for a shoot using dangerous props, more or less, you need to make proper arrangements. I also question the professionalism of the animal handler that provided the tiger. Why would he allow the tiger to be out of his control in a public environment? Why did he also push for proper permit filing?

This situation could have easily escalated and gone in a much worse direction for the humans and the tiger. Remember, the safety of you and your crew comes first.

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10 Comments

james johnson's picture

I tend to trust my employees, but on my sets, everyone goes to lunch, or no one does. I consider it a matter of respect to the work being done, whether they are the photographer or a PA.

I definitely wouldn't leave when there is a problem.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

So let me get this straight... a well known wildlife photographer who works with rescue/conservation organizations half ass planned a shoot, didn't tell anyone on his crew or the property management team that a class V animal would be on set, didn't obtain the proper permits, and treated said animal like a prop to be moved around as his convenience. Then when the animal doesn't cooperate, because who wants to be sitting in the sun under a fur coat for hours, he allowed other people to take the fall for his multi level failure.

Now, I have many years of experience with exotic animals. I know big cats are scared of loud noises and people will bang stuff around when they need them to move. But the fact is, the tiger shouldn't have been in that particular situation in the first place. Whether Yarrow didn't tell the trainers or the trainers didn't care, my guess is he had no plan and the trainers didn't want to say no to anything once they were there, that information is between them. But for a wildlife and conservation photographer, he should have known better. He's trying to distance himself from the situation and save his own reputation at the expense of others who just got caught up in this mess.

Gino Carlini's picture

The Animal Wranglers were from Animals of Montana and they have one of the worst reputations in the United States. Jennifer you are 100% right... those animals shouldn't have been there in the first place...

Anonymous's picture

Despicable. Like it or not, as a photographer, you're the boss. The buck stops at your desk. If that bothers you then get a job at bestbuy and sell me cord for my macbook.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

Exactly. In my day job, I'm a project manager. You'd better believe it is my ass any time there is a problem on a site, even if I'm 2000 miles away.

Scott Spellman's picture

Thank you for real information on this situation. Detroiters should not tolerate reckless visitors, mistreatment of animals, and bad journalism.

michael buehrle's picture

those crazy brit's.

Gino Carlini's picture

As a published professional photographer, I'm disgusted with photographer David Yarrow. This British photographer claims to be a wildlife conservationist, but sets up a photo shoot at an abandon site in Detroit and neglected to tell anyone including the city that he was bringing in live exotic animals, on top of which the animal wranglers(Animals Of Montana) he hired have notoriously one of the worst reputations in the United States. A tiger got loose and Animals of Montana only solution was to get Anthony Barchock to scare it with weed wacker! Anthony very stupid on your part. If that Tiger would have got agitated enough, he could have attacked you and most likely killed you. Then David Yarrow gets on his facebook page and lies about what happened. On top of which they took a Tiger in a place that is loaded with Glass, Asbestos, Lead Paint Chips,Rusty Metal objects and about 100 other things that could endanger the animals safety. To me this whole thing was completely unprofessional and it a good thing the shoot was shut down.