Winner, Joint Winner – Portfolio – Wild Stories
Travel Photographer of the Year 2013
You can buy this and other Travel Photographer of the Year prints online here.
To Jasper Doest, photography is always about emotion. Whether it’s a travel documentary, a conservation story or a standalone piece of art; it must be an expressive image, an image that should touch its viewers. Throughout his work the photographer is in search of simplicity and tranquility. He awaits the unexpected. That’s his strength. Jasper brings nature, anywhere in the world, closer. Close to him, close to others. He explains: ‘I owe a lot to the natural world and photography is my way of giving something back.’
To him nothing beats sharing his passion: in lectures, in interviews, in workshops, but mostly through his photographs that convey a story and emphasize the beauty and fragility of our planet. As a fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), his work has received multiple awards; international journals and books, such as National Geographic Magazine and BBC Wildlife Magazine, are publishing his photographs and articles. He also created several travel and news features for National Geographic Traveler and national newspapers.
Jasper shows what’s beautiful around him, around us, and with his pictures he reveals how fragile this beauty is. One split second can tell his story, that single moment in which he freezes nature but brings it to life more than ever before.
You can see more of Jasper’s work here www.jasperdoest.com
2. What first got you into photography and how old were you?
When I look back at images of my childhood, photography always seemed to play a role in my life. Firstly my dad liked to do 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 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.
3. How do you look to approach and capture your next best shot?
For me creativity comes with freedom. Letting go of all the rules, not looking at what has been done before. Follow your intuition and letting your subject lead the way. As a photographer of the natural world, we’re not in charge. We’re a guest and all we can do is try to anticipate what is given to you. And that does not only apply to wildlife photography. We are a guest on this beautiful planet. Once you realise we’re just that and accept that we’re not in control, you’ll learn to go with the flow and experience the freedom that comes with it.
I prefer working on long-term projects, although I never think of them as projects. These things do not come up when sitting behind the desk. It’s love. I fall in love with my subjects. And once you fall in love there is no way back. I deeply care for these animals and try to do everything within my capabilities to tell the story as I see it. Moving on is the difficult part. I can’t…which keeps me going back to all my beloved ones. But at a certain point you need to move on. But in your heart there’s always a weak spot for the subject whether it is an animal or a location. I generally like wide open spaces where I can wander off and let go my imagination and species that allow me to work in close relationship to them. Being accepted as a guest in an animals territory is one of the largest privileges in life. It is then that an animal shows its true identity. I vividly remember a mother Arctic fox weaning her babies at three meters distance and I was in awe…it is a feeling that is hard to describe. I’m very thankful for all these special moments I’ve experienced over the years.
4. What has being involved with the Travel Photographer of the Year done for your photography career?
I have a love-hate relationship with competitions. Honestly, if photography would not be my profession, I would not compete. Why would I like to be better than somebody else? That is not the purpose of my photography. My photography is about sharing, rather than winning over someone who is just as passionate about things as I am.
However, I am fully aware of the impact of some competitions out there, including the Travel Photographer of the Year competition. Winning a national photo competition gave my career a jump start and I’m the first one admit that my photography has definitely benefited from those competitions. The media attention you get through these competitions can be very large and therefore it creates very good possibilities to raise awareness for your subject’s story.
5. Tell us the story of your profiled picture
In winter, Japanese macaques in the Jigokudani Valley of central Japan congregate in the hot-spring pools, to stay warm and to socialise. The colder it gets in the mountains, the more of them head for the pools, as do humans. I found about 30 macaques enjoying a steamy soak, their heads covered in fresh snow. The warm water has a very relaxing effect on the monkeys, and most of them were asleep. I watched with delight as this youngster became increasingly drowsy and eventually closed its eyes. It’s such an honour when an animal trusts you enough to fall asleep in front of you. I used a close-up shot to capture the moment of tranquillity and to emphasise the human likeness in both face and pleasure.
Young Japanese macaque falling a sleep in a hot-spring pool | © Jasper Doest. You can buy this print online here.
6. Where is your favourite place you have visited, and why?
Of course, there are favorite places and moments that stand out. However each and every moment is different, so I feel it wouldn’t be fair if I classed some more important than others. Yes, petting a whale in Mexico or meeting a male polar bear eye-to-eye in the middle of the high Arctic leave a big impression. Yet through my photography I want to do nature justice, and I believe surprise is often found in the little things. There is more to the Arctic than polar bears, more to Africa than lions, and even though I travelled to Japan, India and the African continent last year, one of the moments that brought me to tears was actually in my own country.
7. What piece of advice would you give someone starting out on their photography ‘career’?
I really love adventure. Stepping into the ‘unknown’ so to speak. Through my travels I’ve learned to enjoy unexpected surprises. One time I was on assignment in Africa for National Geographic Traveler when I was joining a group of local kids during a camping-trip. One afternoon they went out to one of the waterholes nearby in order to paint about their appreciation about the natural world. And while I was watching them as they sat alongside the water, peacefully drawing the animals, we got the news that the kitchen of the basecamp caught fire. We rushed back and I was stunned by the way these kids all worked together in order to extinguish the flames. There was so much joy. They were all working together, singing “’his camp is on fire’ on Alicia Keys’ ‘Girl on Fire’. It put a big smile on my face and as I joined the bucked brigade I felt the luckiest man on the planet.
Moments like these make the journey. And I think the curiosity to explore the unfamiliar will eventually help you to appreciate the familiar and overlooked and open your mind to find new ways to look at the world surrounding you. I’m always searching for the characteristics that make a place unique…and the more you’ve seen, the better you’ll be able to understand and appreciate a place, which will eventually make you a better photographer.
8. What do you most enjoy photographing?
Through my photography I’m able to give a voice to the ones that are often overlooked. I’m able to share my experiences with so many people. As our future is on the line, we need people to start caring about our environment on a daily basis. We need to convince them about the valuable conservation work that has been going on and we need to convince the public to chose local decision makers wisely. Our planet needs sustainability. Photographers can give a voice the ones who can’t speak for themselves (before it is too late). Photographers can initiate change. That is my motivation and joy. It’s within the power of photography.
For more information on Travel Photographer of the Year or to enter, visit www.tpoty.com
For more information on Jasper, visit www.jasperdoest.com