FORCE of nature
African Birdlife|March/April 2021
During the past five or so years, Cape-based photographer Peter Chadwick has focused his conservation work on supporting counter-poaching efforts, developing conservation and re-introduction strategies for high-risk and endangered species and cultivating marine and terrestrial conservation teams. While doing this work throughout the African continent and the Western Indian Ocean, Peter has used his conservation photojournalism to raise awareness and garner support for the various causes he works on. A multiaward-winning cameraman, he is a Senior Fellow and Executive Member of the International League of Conservation Photographers.
Peter Chadwick

What motivated you to become a wildlife photographer and to then move away from taking more standard images to concentrate on documenting some of the most hard-core conservation issues?

I was privileged to be introduced at an early age to the wilds of the Zimbabwean bushveld by my parents, in particular by my father who was also an avid black-and-white photographer. (Never underestimate the value of positive encouragement from a parent or a role model!) We would spend days following rhinos or herds of buffalo or sable and it was these experiences that sparked a lifelong passion for conservation and introduced me to the art of photography. My love of the outdoors eventually determined my career and a camera has always been at hand to capture opportunities that present themselves.

It was, however, while working in the Kalahari that I began to realise that rather than simply taking easy-to-achieve record shots of species or places in nice lighting, I needed to create images that were more artistic and evocative. I wanted images to tell a story that grabbed people’s attention, not only showing the beauty and diversity of life, but also highlighting the real challenges and complexities being faced.

My first long-term conservation photography project focused on raising awareness of the plight that seabird species are facing as a result of anthropogenic influences. I realised that there was a need not only to protect them, but also to expand marine protected areas that could act as refuges where seabird numbers could recover. That project was followed by others that showed the devastating impact of wildlife and environmental crimes and raised awareness about the ranger teams across Africa. These teams are tasked with protecting the last vestiges of wilderness across the continent – without them our conservation efforts in Africa will largely be doomed.

What do you think are the most positive effects of conservation photojournalism?

I have definitely seen that although my direct conservation impact with a team or in a protected area does bring benefits, the reach is limited to that specific project. Conservation photojournalism, if it’s done properly, enhances this sitespecific work and has the potential to reach a massive global audience. Working with key organisations such as BirdLife, the International League of Conservation Photographers or Photographers Against Wildlife Crime extends the reach of this conservation effort through their targeted messaging. Good conservation photojournalism will also bring the new and unseen to the viewer – in the majority of cases, the public and decision-makers do not have the opportunity to see the issues at first hand. By showing them the reality, the power of good photography can then turn these individuals into supporters of the cause.

Witnessing such an unrelenting fight of ‘good versus evil’ must get depressing at times. How do you find the motivation to keep going?

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