To celebrate the launch of the inaugural Wildscreen Photo Story Panda Award at this year’s Wildscreen Festival, Arkive is getting to know the award’s amazing jury, who are themselves international photography professionals. Here we meet Jasper Doest.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born and raised close to Rotterdam in The Netherlands and that’s where I still live. I cover nature and conservation stories, always aiming for a creative angle to make an emotional link with my audience.
As a WWF ambassador and a fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), my photographs have received multiple awards and appeared in numerous international journals and books, including National Geographic Magazine, GEO and Smithsonian Magazine.
Through my photography I’m able to give a voice to the ones that are often overlooked. As our future is on the line, we need people to start caring about our environment on a daily basis. Photographers can give a voice to the ones who cannot speak for themselves. Photographers can initiate change. That is my motivation and joy. It’s within the power of photography.When I look back at images of my childhood, photography always seemed to play a role in my life. Firstly my dad liked photography, and by the age of four I had my own Kodak Instamatic. However it wasn’t until the age of 20 that I purchased a SLR camera with my first salary, working as a laboratory assistant; I really enjoyed taking photographs, but this first camera soon ended up in the closet. When I decided to continue my studies I took a weekend job in an electronic warehouse, accidentally ending up in the camera department. I had no knowledge about the cameras whatsoever, but decided I needed to acquire some to help people choose the right camera. And from that moment on I was hooked!
My parents raised me with a lot of respect for the natural world. When I started out with my photography I tried many disciplines, but I found most enjoyment when I was working with the natural world. I therefore decided to take a biology degree, to enhance my knowledge about the subjects I was photographing. The study for that degree took me to the Arctic region, where I took an image of two Arctic fox kits that won a major award in the Netherlands. That’s when I decided I had to follow my heart and become a full-time professional, dedicating my time to documenting the utter beauty and fragility of the world that surrounds us. That was ten years ago and that’s what I’m still doing now.
How do you think photo stories with a clear narrative affect audiences compared to single images?
Both have a purpose I think. Within a photographic narrative, there are always a few keystone images that carry the story. These often work quite nicely as strong single images as well. However, I believe a story with a clear visual narrative provides a deeper understanding in the issue. And while a strong single image seems to stick in one’s memory a bit better, it’s often the bigger picture that a narrative story provides that really plants a seed deep in one’s conscience having a long term impact.
This photojournalistic way of storytelling about wild animals and stage we’re in as a planet is relatively new to ‘wildlife photography’ and it comes naturally with the sense of awareness that we’re getting about the planet. We’re finally starting to see the consequences of our behaviour and it is our responsibility as photographers running into these conditions to communicate about this. And there has been some critique on this ‘trend’. I think it is wrong when we start analysing this being a trend and that in the past it was all happiness and now we’re seeing drama entering the wildlife community. It’s not about that at all. Yes, nature is beautiful…and something that should be celebrated, but we have been celebrating the natural world for years and meanwhile we’ve differentiated ourselves from what our ancestors called ‘home’ hundreds of years ago. Many people today don’t seem to realise that nature is our home and something that should be taken care of. And the stories that we see in the photojournalistic categories display why there is an immediate urge for these stories as we are exploiting our planet to a degree where there is no way back. And the consequence would be that there is nothing to celebrate in the future.
Your images are always artistic. Do you plan your narrative and aesthetics of your images/stories before you go into the field?
I do believe the aesthetic part is still very important while building visual narratives as it is the aesthetical part that leads the viewer to the content. One doesn’t go without the other.
There is not a lot of planning involved other than making sure I’m in a place that is an important piece of the puzzle. While there I can only anticipate to what is being offered to me as I’m not in control. And once I get back at the office, the big puzzle begins, trying to build the narrative with the individual pieces and if there are pieces missing I know where to go to try to get them. But the visual approach is not something I plan, I like to just go with the flow.Photography has taken you across the globe, have you stumbled upon any particular stories that you feel aren’t being told?
There are many stories that deserve being told and that aren’t really getting any attention. But it’s important to find something that really fits with you as an individual. The issue should personally affect you. So sometimes I see a good story but I know it isn’t for me. It’s sad, but I can’t focus on everything I run into. Fortunately I see more and more photographers working on these important issues.
You spent some time visiting landfill sites across Europe, with some disturbing behaviour changes in white storks. How did that change your approach in conveying human impact to audiences who aren’t particularly exposed to nature or environmental issues?
I finished that work in 2014 and have raised my voice about the (plastic) waste crisis and sustainability ever since. Before that particular story I had the feeling my personal voice and my visual work weren’t running parallel and that story gave my photography a purpose. The images allow me to raise my voice about something I personally care about and fortunately that hasn’t gone unnoticed. The work has been widely published and I have been able to talk about these topics to leaders of industry and national governments in Europe. These platforms allow me to communicate outside the wildlife photography circle, which is very important to me. Not that I don’t enjoy talking to an already converted audience, that’s important too…but it sometimes feels like preaching to the choir, while there is still a lot of work to be done outside that green circle.
Over the past years I’ve spent many weeks on landfill sites and recycling centers in Southern Europe. I was working on a photo story about white storks and noticed large flocks of birds foraging on mountains of municipal waste. A scene I can not explain, but a story with desperate need to be told.Being confronted with the enormous amounts of waste we produce on a daily basis is truly horrifying. Walking through fields of empty bottles, plastic bags, food leftovers and toys still brings me to tears. I lie awake at night, embarrassed to be part of our consumer society. We have to turn the tide. This story is not about storks anymore. It is about us. Look into the mirror and imagine all fables about storks symbolising new life being true. Well…than this is how we threat new life, longevity…our future.We are all connected. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the foods we eat unite us in caring for our world. The International League of Conservation Photographers ILCP is dedicated to furthering conservation and the health of nature through photography. We do so by sharing our pictures and stories of what we hold most dear – – our connections to the land, water, wildlife and all of nature.*click on HD for higher quality screening*#1frame4nature #1f4n #challengetochange #sustainability #recycle #notimetowaste #conservation #conservationphotographers #plasticwaste #plastic #wasteland #canonnederland #shareifyoucare
Posted by Jasper Doest on Monday, 6 March 2017
You are on the jury for Wildscreen’s inaugural Photo Story Panda Award. Why do you feel it’s important that Wildscreen is including stills photography within the Panda Awards and the Wildscreen Festival?
I think it’s time to start looking outside our individual boxes. And while film and stills photography are two completely different languages that allow you to connect with someone’s emotions in a completely different way, it’s good to understand that the two can complement each in the mission of raising awareness for the story topic. We’re all visual storytellers and we need each other. So to me it makes perfect sense that Wildscreen has decided to include stills photography within the Panda Awards and the Wildscreen Festival.
What advice would you give an emerging talent photographer starting out on their journey today?
Try to find something that makes your heart beat faster, a story that really affects you personally. Something that wakes you up at night and is still dominating your thoughts the next morning. If you do so it doesn’t take any effort to walk the extra mile and take your work to the next level.
Lastly, if you had the opportunity to create a photo story of any animal or aspect of life on Earth that you want, what or where would it be and why?
Since working on my latest story I have become extremely fascinated on the human perception of animal life. People are strange…they are the only species I can think of that actually destroys its own habitat. And while I would love to work on any animal in true wilderness, it’s the intersection between humans and the rest of life on Earth that really has my attention as I try to bridge the gap between the two as we have been separating us from the rest of the planet for way too long now.
Thanks to Jasper for taking the time to share his thoughts. We’re really excited to see him and all the incredible photo stories at the Wildscreen Festival 2018!
You can find Jasper on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, or visit his website jasperdoest.com.
Revisit the Arkive blog soon to meet the rest of the Wildscreen Photo Story Panda Award jury.