David Yarrow’s beautifully raw portrayal of the natural world has earned him a global following and his commitment to conservation has garnered the respect of Prince Albert II.
The fine art photographer spoke to Monaco Life about his new world-wide exhibition currently featuring at G&M Design Gallery, and reveals the secrets of his enthralling career.
Monaco Life: You had the opening of the exhibition last week, how was it received by Monaco?
David Yarrow: It was great to have Prince Albert there, and my daughter who is down from London as well as all the London team. It was very flattering that the Prince should support a similar conservationist, and it was nice for him to do it in person.
Also, Tina Green is doing a great job at G&M Design Gallery. This is the first of 25 cities around the world that we are going to be exhibiting in over the next five months. But I don’t think we will have a better bar/restaurant next door to us than Sass Café. Sammy is a great friend and he is actually showcasing my work inside the restaurant as well, so it offers a nice degree of continuity.
You once had a promising career in finance. Tell me, David, do you ever wish you had stayed a stock broker?
Well I was only a stock broker for a while and then I became a hedge fund manager. I look back on it and wonder whether I left a little too late, in fact. I think if you have a career change midlife you have obligations, and I had obligations to hit the ground running. I had to earn as much money being a photographer as I was earning in the good days of working in finance, and unfortunately a lot of photographers struggle to make money. So, I had a business plan that I worked off of for many years before I took the plunge. But there are no regrets at all, I think thank goodness in fact. The world of stock markets has changed so much since the 80s and 90s and I wouldn’t be having nearly as much fun as I am right now.
Well I imagine the contrast is quite stark between the two worlds…
Many people think that but I would say there are a lot of similarities actually. Research was a very big part of what I used to do and it is a huge part of what I do now. People in finance tend to venture to places that other people don’t go and that’s very true of my photography. There’s no point taking a photo if there are 50 other photographers there. Similarly, there is no point buying a stock if everyone else is involved in it.
What are your favourite destinations that you have travelled to?
Well, bizarrely, it is not Africa. While there are pockets of beauty and wonder in Africa, there is also a lot of corruption and crime. It’s a vast continent which is very troubled. I enjoy some parts of it, but my favourite is probably Montana in America. Iceland has also been a great location for us, and Alaska. So actually, America is probably my favourite place to work, because it does work.
As a photographer working in the wild, what are the biggest changes, positive or negative, that you have seen over the decades?
I see the influence that conservation money is have in making a difference. I see a far greater presence in parts of Africa, for example, of rangers with guns. I see far more evidence of the fight back against poaching.
I also see more and more tourists wanting extreme experiences. 20 years ago, you might have thought you were going to a place that was so remote that no one else could get there. Nowadays, however, everywhere is accessible. And that means you have to fight harder and harder to have original content.
In Monaco we have a lot of good people doing important things with their money, but they don’t always see where it goes. Is it encouraging to see where your donations to conservation go through your work?
We do contribute a lot, I think it’s around six million sterling over the past five years. But I think it would be totally deluded of me to think I could see all the impact of that personally, because it goes to many different places. But I do see that the number of animals are increasing in certain places. We are very careful to work with organisations to ensure that 70% to 80% ends up in the right place.
Who is your inspiration?
I am inspired by film makers more than photographers. A long way ahead of the pack would be Steven Spielberg, and then Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese.
Is it the way they manage to capture a moment and tell a story that inspires you?
It’s their ability to elicit emotion, because photography without emotion is nothing. I try as much as possible to create an emotional reaction in my pictures. Whenever I am taking a picture, if there’s no emotion from me, how on earth can someone looking at it have any emotion? I think it’s a very important part of what I do.
Have you ever gotten home from a photoshoot and thought “there is nothing I can use here”?
I think if my answer to that was “no”, there would be alarm bells ringing. It shouldn’t be that easy. I think about one in three trips we get nothing. So, I liken what you see here in the G&M Design Gallery in Monaco to an iceberg: you just see the 10% that I want you to see, and underneath that there is a lot of failure.
Your photos look like you are right there with the animals, but how much do you really put yourself in danger?
I don’t really, I have two kids and I am responsible. Over the last 10 years of my life, the moments I have been nervous have always been with people rather than animals. And that’s because people can do three things that animals can’t do: they can get high, they can be drunk, and they can buy guns. I have, however, had a moment with a bear in Alaska, but the times I have been nervous have been with people.
So what happened with this bear?
You can see this on YouTube actually. I often get very close to bears if they are fishing, when they are not worried about me. But you don’t want to get between a mother and her cubs. And there was one occasion when I got between the mum and the cubs. I was watching the bear in the water and I had no idea that cubs had come up and were sniffing me from behind. Then the mother came over, which is always a little bit of a worry. She could have attacked and killed me, but I kept dead still and she just walked away.
Tell me about fine art photography, because it is not a common phrase or category in the fine art world is it?
You are right, it is not mainstream. But that’s why I am in it. Fine art photography suggests a slightly higher plane than press photography, for example, as it has a degree of interpretation, of beauty to it, and most importantly there is a degree of exclusivity. I took a picture in Africa last week, and anyone who wants to buy that knows that there are only 12 of them in the world. Part and parcel of fine art photography is, if you get it right, you make it a limited edition so people are keen to buy it. People have been willing to pay 100,000 pounds for one of my images, but that wouldn’t happen if there were 500 of them knocking around. I also work in black and white which suggests a degree of interpretation.
What are you hoping to achieve in Monaco? Are all the pieces for sale?
Yes. We know the big art sales cities in the world: London, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Oslo, but it would be lovely to think that over time Monaco could get into that leap. And I think that is possible because there is clearly a lot of money and sophistication here and Tina runs a great gallery.
Tell us about the book…
It is only available here in Monaco at the moment, and it is something I have been very passionate about. Every year there are something like 65,000 hard back books released around the world, and the average sale is 4,000. So we wanted to set the bar so high in this category that it can sell tens of thousands, and I am donating all of my royalties to conservation. I have collaborated with two American icons in the book: Tom Brady the NFL Footballer who wrote the foreword, and Cindy Crawford who wrote the afterword. I work with both of those extraordinary people on a regular basis and it is 65,000 words, so it is expensive because it is beautifully done. I think it will do very well.
David Yarrow’s exhibition is on show at the G&M Design Gallery until 2nd November.