Craig Hayman: The Splendor and Spectacle of the Wild

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Craig Hayman is an architect and photographer based in Sydney, Australia. A South Africa native, Craig has a very diverse background. He spent years in the bush as a safari guide and a conservationist, experiences which he calls the most satisfying in his life. In addition, he also worked as a guide trainer for the Smithsonian Institute. Last year, “Wildlife in Pictures,” Craig’s 320-page book of his stunning and awe-inspiring photography of wildlife and landscape images shot in Gabon, Africa, and India was published. Aside from photography, Craig is also passionate about architecture. He currently works as an architect in Sydney in sustainable design. This week Craig talks to atlas about how his experiences as a safari guide and conservationist influenced him as a person and a photographer and shares his unique perspective on what we can do more to protect the wild for future generations. (Editor’s Note: We are showcasing again one of our favorite features on wildlife photography. Enjoy this gorgeous series from Craig Hayman!)

When did you know you wanted to become a photographer?

Craig Hayman: While I am primarily an architect, I took a serious interest in photography only in my early twenties on a journey through Tanzania. From a young age, I had been exposed to art, photography, and an appreciation of nature by my parents. I started drawing and writing long before I picked up a camera.

How long have you been photographing wildlife? What else do you photograph?

I began photographing wildlife more seriously when I moved to the bush at age 24 to work as a safari guide. Until then I had an interest, but I had never had the time to develop it fully although many years of observing animal behavior proved to be invaluable when I did pick up a camera in earnest.

Now that I live in Australia, I have been focusing on landscapes, architecture, and some portraiture. I live close enough to the ocean to hear the surf at night when the wind blows the right way, which makes me happy. Sydney is a very photogenic city. I have also taken on several architectural photography projects, including some commercial and some for my own interest.

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Can you describe a little bit about these magnificent wildlife images you took?

The opening image: Subtly backlit and set against a gilded Serengeti horizon, a pair of giraffes arrange themselves in a harmonious composition. I did not think much of this shot at the time, being too consumed in enjoying the moment, but it has become one of my favorites for its simplicity and softness.

For the image above, I spent two voyeuristic days with this pair of mating lions through rain and shine. When a lioness enters peak fertility, she will push a male to mate multiple time per hour, every hour, for several days. They will typically go without eating, pausing only to drink and nap. This image was taken moments after the pair had finished mating for the umpteenth time, and the male is warning the female to give him space. When the male eventually fatigues, the lioness may mate with another male within this male’s coalition.

You published a photo book of your work entitled “Wildlife in Pictures.” The images in are stunning and powerful. What inspired you to put this book together?

The opportunity to publish a book came quite by accident. I never sought out a publishing deal, but I am very glad that “Wildlife in Pictures: has been so successful. The book has provided a great platform through which to connect with people.  Once I began work on “Wildlife in Pictures,” I wanted the narrative of the book to be as authentic as possible, including the gritty, the unglamorous, and the uncensored. The publishing house was a little more conservative and guided the book’s image selection towards mass appeal, which I can understand. I am looking for a little more leeway in my follow-up project

You had the unique opportunity to work as a conservationist and a safari guide. What was your experience like?

Without doubt, living and working in wilderness areas as a safari guide has been the most satisfying experience of my life. Living so close to nature, knowing a wild place so intimately, learning from people who have been ancestrally connected to the land for centuries shifted my world view dramatically.

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To achieve this above shot, I lay on my belly on a salt pan using a 500m lens. The gemsbok (also known as Oryx) were alert and tightly clustered. They were watching me carefully, unaccustomed to seeing humans on foot. In the background, in soft focus, a cluster of baobab trees is visible. This specific copse of baobabs is known as Baines’ Baobabs. The trees are many centuries old and are visually unchanged since they made famous by European explorer and painter Thomas Baines in 1862.

How has your experience influenced you as a person and as a photographer?

As a person: As a safari guide, you learn to become an expert in human behavior as well as animal behavior.  I had a number of important role models who influenced my ideas on the kind of man I want to become. Nature teaches you to understand complexity and to look for inter-connectivity. I think that I am more patient, more observant, and more appreciative than I would have been without those years in the bush. I am also less impressed by bravado.

As a photographer: Without my time as a safari guide, I do not think I would have taken photography seriously at all. Time is vital in wildlife photography, and living in wilderness areas for three years provided time to grow, to make mistakes, and to develop my own style.

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To capture this leopard, I recall frantically scrambling for my camera the moment I spotted this leopard, terrified that she would slink off before I had the opportunity to photograph her. This image was taken before I began guiding professionally, and leopard sightings like this had been few and far between. I only had a few minutes with her before she moved off to chase a squirrel. Timing is everything in the bush.  In my mind, I have a wish list of photographs I would love to take. The list grows and changes, but a moment like this had been near the top of the list.

Do you think we are doing enough to protect the wild? If not, what more can we do?

There is a tremendous amount of good work being done to preserve wild places and wild species and there is much to be celebrated. There are also many reasons to feel concerned for the future. The greatest challenge will be in addressing the underlying pressures that threaten wilderness. These are interconnected issues that center around population growth, climate change, habitat loss, corruption, and an economy married to fossil fuels and non-renewable resources.

Are there any photographers whose work inspire you?

I am a big fan of the work of Peter Beard. His images are raw, fearless, imperfect, and transcend the space between art and photography, which is a difficult thing to do in nature photography. I also have man crushes on Nick Nichols, Sebastião Salgado, and Steve McCurry. Outside of photography, I am also strongly influenced by the composition of J.H.Pierneef, a South African landscape artist. One of his prints hangs over my desk.

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I love this image above for its ability to tell a story in a single image. In an unusual standoff, a female waterbuck shields her offspring from African wild dogs. After an exhausting hunt, predator and prey are at a stalemate: the waterbuck reluctant to enter the water where other dangers wait, and the dogs unable to chase the waterbuck any further. In the end, the two waterbuck swam over 100m to safety and the dogs moved on. In situations like this, onlookers often want to see a successful kill, but I was very happy to see the young waterbuck live another day.

Aside from a photographer, you also work as an architect in sustainable design in Sydney. How has one influenced the other? 

Architecture and photography are at opposite ends of the creative spectrum. Designing as an architect is a slow, laborious discipline. You have a client, a budget, a timeline, and so many rules. It can be challenging to find the creativity. Photography is quite the opposite. There are few constraints and the challenge is to introduce structure, restraint, and narrative.

An education as an architect is a great foundation for photography. Composition, light, structure, color and pattern are key elements in both architecture and photography. Learning to ‘see,’ and to be objectively self-critical are probably the most valuable skills both an architect and a photographer must develop.

Are you working on any new projects?

Short term – In June I will be in Botswana for three weeks assisting with a rhino conservation project. It is for an important cause with some inspiring people and I am excited to be a part of it.

Longer term – I am planning an exhibition in Sydney for 2016. I am also in conversation with my publishing house about a second book projectThe subject would likely not be wildlife photographyI’m interested in storytelling, in landscape, and in the stories of indigenous people and their relationship with the land.

If you had one piece of advice for aspiring photographers, what would it be?

My advice would be to focus on enjoying the process of making images. I enjoy photography most when I am up early to ensure I am in the right place when the light is perfect or out in a beautiful location trying to perfect a shot of the stars. I enjoy making images of subjects that challenge me. I relish the storytelling aspect of photography. Find the thing you love doing, bring a camera, and tell a story with it.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Craig!

For more information about Craig Hayman, visit his website.  All images © Craig Hayman.

Osceola Refetoff: Beauty and Awe of the California Desert

Osceola Refetoff is a Los Angeles-based photographer.  A Chicago native with Danish, Bulgarian and Canadian roots, Osceola is a master filmmaker and photographer. Osceola’s first love was film making which he studied at Duke University and then at New York University’s Graduate Film Program. Over time, Osceola’s talent for visual storytelling gravitated towards photography. His works reflect his passion for humanity and its impact  it has on the world. These days Osceola’s focus is on the vast American West, including the magnificent California desert and the communities who used to inhabit there. In collaboration with historian Christopher Langley,  Osceola created “High & Dry,” a wonderful blog of stories and images that detail the stark landscape and communities in the California desert. His works from his vast desert series are on exhibit at the Porch Gallery in Ojai through the end of March. This week Osceola talks to atlas about his start in photography, why the California desert appeals to him, and why it is important to document the natural beauty and stories of desert life.

How did you first get into photography?

I do not have one of those heart-warming stories where I got a camera at age five and knew I wanted to be a photographer. Mostly as a kid, I was into blowing things up and generally causing trouble. It was not until much later – in my twenties – that I got interested in photography, and even then there was not a sudden “ah ha!” moment. At some point, I was living in New York City and found myself carrying around a couple of small cameras at all times — one with color film and one with black & white.

You brilliantly capture a wide range of images — people, landscape, nature, objects — that show all aspects of our humanity. What is it about our humanity that draws you in as a photographer?

I am fascinated by people and I enjoy observing and revealing their personalities, usually with their permission and at their best. However, much of my desert work is about the absence of people. Not straight-up nature shots, but humanity defined by the traces they leave behind. I am particularly interested in what desert ruins might have to say about who we are today as a society, and how that may be different from peoples of the past.

If you look at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, it seems like everyone is posting photos and identifying themselves as a photographer. How do you create images that sets yours apart from all the rest?

I am active on social media. I love being able to connect with a larger audience, far away. And although I do a lot of work that is experimental in nature – pinhole photography, infrared photography, long exposures – my general approach to photography is pretty traditional. To stand out in this crazy-cluttered environment, you simply have to shoot really well. For instance, I have a series “Armchair in the Sky” that I capture from the windows of commercial airplanes. When I started photographing the series on film twenty years ago, you did not see those kind of images very often. Now, everyone is shooting out airplane windows with their phones. If I want my images to stand out against the millions of airplane shots that are posted online, they better be really very good. So far I must have made a couple thousand exposures. After twenty years, I finally started exhibiting the series last July, and to date I have uploaded about twenty images to my website. So start with a specific vision, pursue that vision over the long haul, edit the results with ruthless determination, and print only the very best with a mindful, cohesive aesthetic. Personally, I like that there are so many “photographers” out there today. It keeps me on my game.

Tell us a bit more about these stunning and beautiful desert images you have entitled “Ozymandias.” You have a masterful eye for light and style. What inspired you to capture these desert images?

Ozymandias” is the name of one of my black & white desert portfolios featuring the remnants of human existence strewn about in the California desert. I generally carry at least two or three cameras with me when I travel by car in the desert. Some images lend themselves to black & white exposures, and for these, I generally shoot infrared – either digital or film. The main reason for working in b&w is that, in the absence of color, all the emphasis is on form and composition. As an additional benefit, infrared makes the skies very dark, and the clouds (when there are clouds) are very pronounced. Generally, landscape photographers have a hard time making good images in the middle of the day, so they tend to favor “magic hour” light and shadow. Well, that leaves a lot of day on the table! I love “good” light too, but for me, the desert experience is much about the sun directly overhead. Black & white photography not only feels like the right medium to portray many of my subjects, but it also allows me to work all day long, capturing the relentless intensity of the midday desert sun.

Your passion about the desert led you to start a blog called “High & Dry” about California’s deserts and those who reside there. What inspired you to start this blog? What do you hope to accomplish with this blog?

I had been thinking for some time about collaborating with a writer because of the unique power that words and images have when they are presented in tandem. I was familiar with the work of James Agee/Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange/Paul Taylor when I met writer/historian Christopher Langley in Lone Pine, CA while working on a motion picture project. First and foremost, the purpose of our collaboration is to present cool and interesting stories about the California desert, illustrated with quality photographs. We are interested in the history of the desert, particularly in relation to human activity past and present. We are also documenting the massive transformation underway with the development of industrial-scale renewable energy facilities. Our hope is that familiarizing people with the history and natural beauty of the desert will encourage them to consider the future of this long-undervalued land resource. The project gets re-syndicated in a variety of media – local desert publications, glossy magazines, scholarly journals, and KCET’s “Artbound” – so we are able to reach a large audience from all walks of life.

You chose to photograph these images in black & white which gives them a radiant aesthetic quality. Why did you select black & white over color?

I love both color and black & white. Some subjects are suitable to both mediums, but others are distinctly better in either color or b&w. Because I shoot 99% of my b&w work in infrared, I have to make my decision on site, determining by the nature of the subject, which representation better suits what I want to express. In the desert, I usually photograph from a tripod, so sometimes I will make a similar exposure with both a color and a b&w camera.

Are there any photographers who have influenced you?

I came to photography later in life. Early on I was much more interested in filmmaking, eventually getting an MFA in film production from NYU. All through my late teens and twenties, when I was not in production, I would see ten or more features a week in theater. So my compositional style and my interest in visual narrative was heavily influenced by the great mis-en-scene directors I admire – Lange, Welles, Kubrick, Melville, etc. So today, I find myself interested in the meticulous framing of compositions in depth, I like to explore temporal as well as visual space in my stills, and I am obsessed with creating visual effects in-camera. I go to art presentations of all kinds – many of them! And I find that I’m as likely to be inspired by a painter or the lighting design of a stage production than I am by a photography exhibit.

If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (living or deceased), who would it be?

I only became interested in photography very late in the game long after I had developed what I consider my own visual style. I think I would enjoy hanging out with Man Ray or perhaps a late night out on the town with Brassaï.

If you could give one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

I would tell him or her to buy a printer. The images we see on backlit displays have significant limitations. They cannot adequately convey the full artistic potential of photography at its best. I have seen too many images on my computer that translate to disappointing prints. And images “in the ether” favor graphic, hit-you-over-the-head compositions, rather than subtle, more nuanced work. Printing your work will help you understand how to make better exposures, and seeing the photographs as physical documents will, over time, help you evaluate which of your images may truly be excellent, and which will only get a bunch of likes on Instagram. You will know you are getting somewhere when your prints starting looking much better than your images on the screen. For a while, you may find that the opposite is true. Keep at it. For me at least, printing is hard work. I do not do fancy stuff, mostly traditional darkroom adjustments, not what comes to mind when people typically think of “photoshop.”  But I have only had time to print a small percentage of the images on my website, which are the ones I have exhibited. These images look far better than they did before I spent a couple of days working on them, experimenting with different papers, exposures, color balance, etc. As Ansel Adams said, “The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.”

Thanks for being our photographer of the week, Osceola!

For more information about Osceola, visit his website. For more information about “High & Dry,” visit his blog.  For more information about Osceola’s current photography exhibit at Porch Gallery, visit the gallery’s website. All images © Osceola Refetoff.

Sage Brown: Honoring Mother Nature

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Sage Brown is a Portland, Oregon-based photographer and art director. Raised in the Appalachian Mountains, Sage launched a personal project called “Places I Am,” a series of beautiful images taken a couple of years ago in Oregon and Washington. He not only created a set of stunning postcards, but a website as well specifically for this project.  atlas talks to Sage about how his photography career has evolved and what inspired him to launch the “Places I Am” project. (Editor’s Note: As we roll into 2017, we wanted to get re-inspired by some of our favorite features from the last year. Enjoy these brilliant images from the gifted Sage Brown!)

How did you first get started in photography? Did you have a prior job/career before you started photography?

Sage Brown: When I was sixteen I enrolled in a black and white dark room class at the local community college. It was great. I spent all my free time in the darkroom making prints and stacks of them are still sitting in my closet today. My interests wandered for a good number of years and I wasn’t shooting very much until I dug my old AE-1 out of the closet again five or six years ago. I went on to study graphic design. For the past ten years, I have worked as an interactive designer but photography was always something I did on the side. Last year I was ready for some change and decided to take the leap and pursue photography full time.

How would you describe your photography?

Most of my work has come from the time I spend outdoors. I shoot a lot of landscapes and outdoor lifestyle, but I think that’s just the beginning. I never want to define myself by one type of work.

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You grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. Has growing up in that region of the country made an impact on your photography? If so, how?

I do not think it has made a direct impact, but I can certainly credit my love for exploring the outdoors to my upbringing. I had a pretty non-traditional childhood. Many of my days were spent traipsing around the woods surrounding our home, building tree forts, and fishing. I think to some degree I am still running around in the wilderness exploring in the same way I was as a child only now with a little more purpose.

You recently completed a personal project called “Places I Am.” The “Places I Am” series as a whole is a gorgeous piece of work. Tell us more about this project. How did this project come about, what was your inspiration? How long did it take to complete?

Thank you. I initially started the project just about a year ago, but due to a myriad of reasons, I was not able to finish it until midway through 2015. At the time, I was a little frustrated with my full time job and was really tired of sitting at a desk all day. I was struggling with some health issues and had started making a list of “places I’d rather be” – places other than my desk. The project took off from there and I continued to solidify the idea. Instead of focusing on the places I’d rather be, a small change in the wording to “Places I Am” made the overall concept much stronger:

Places I Am is a series of photos celebrating places that capture my spirit. Each moment I spend exploring these beautiful places changes and inspires me. With each visit I leave a small piece of myself; these places become a part of me and remain so forever. The memories haunt me and propel me to continue searching for what’s next. I am here always.

I wanted the project to have both a physical and digital component, so I decided to see if I could sell a set of postcards. I had never tried selling any of my work before and figured it would be a good experiment. It was a fun way to push myself to make some personal work to share with the world. I am not sure how many sets of postcards I sold, but I think it was a good exercise for myself to work through a concept and self-publish it.

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How did you go about deciding which images to photograph for “Places I Am”?

The process was pretty simple. I culled the list of places down from 20-30 to a manageable number, and then I dug through my work from the past year pulling images that fit the final list of places. Since most of the places were based on trips I had taken, it was pretty easy to find images that fit what I was thinking about. All of the photos were taken in Oregon and Washington in 2014.

Are there any photographers that have influenced you? If so, who?

This is such a hard question for me. I feel overloaded by outside influence these days and I have a hard time filtering through the noise. As I dive back in to the self employed world, I really admire anyone who is following their heart and doing what they love.

How do you see your work evolving over the next 3-5 years?

Right now I am very interested in photographing people more — I want to shoot more portraits. I think the outdoors will always play a part in my work, but at the same time I am interested to see how I can use my work as an means to travel, meet people, and explore new cultures.

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What is your next project?

I hope to self-publish a book in 2016.

If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

Just go for it. I’ve never been much of a planner and have always followed my gut. It’s not always easy, but it usually works. Follow what you love and see where it takes you. Life is too short to wish you had done something else.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Sage!

For more information about Sage, visit his website. All images © Sage Brown.