Exclusive: An Afternoon with David Yarrow, Photographer & Foundation Ambassador
“The scariest encounters in my career, the ones that have sent shivers down my spine, have all been encounters with humans… not animals.”
David Yarrow is best known to the millennial generation for his breathtaking black and white photographs that straddle a line between traditional wildlife and fine art photography. The colourful life of this charismatic Scotsman stands in contrast to the monochrome drama of his wildlife photography; as Yarrow’s career spans from the ceaseless adrenaline of London and New York’s financial trading world, to visiting the earth’s most isolated locations to capture the visual stories of indigenous tribes and landscapes.
Perhaps it’s this dichotomous nature to Yarrow’s life story that gives him his candid and down-to-earth manner. The Kevin Richardson Foundation team sits down to ask him to share some of his views on lions, photography and simply the way he sees the world.
At age 20, David Yarrow perfectly captures the iconic moment when Diego Maradona lifts the World Cup trophy for Argentina in 1986
You worked for years in the world of London finance, was there a specific experience that caused you to focus your attention on photography, or was it just a natural progression?
David: I think the collapse of the banking system in 2008 was a denouement for a lot of people and caused a lot of people to reflect… this brought to the forefront of my mind that that ‘the good old days’ will never return in finance; due to reasons of compliance, conformity of information and regulation. I wanted to get out of that and I wanted to be in charge rather than be hostage to exogenous variables that weren’t in my control. That’s not to say I wasn’t taking pictures before that, I was, but I think it accelerated my appetite for change. So I had to jump onto a train that was moving at a speed, I couldn’t jump onto a stationary train, so for some time I had two careers and then it was just a question of getting the photographic train to go quicker than the finance train… and after 2008 it wasn’t that hard.
What was your most terrifying and challenging shot of your career?
David: ‘Terrifying’ is probably an extreme word because as a father to two children I don’t really ever put myself in a position where I am in jeopardy, as that would be irresponsible and selfish. Shooting in South Sudan is challenging; you really have to be careful as there are a lot of guns up there and it’s downright dangerous. However if you have the right fixers on the ground you’re generally alright. To be honest, the scariest encounters in my career, the ones that have sent shivers down my spine, have all been encounters with humans… not animals.
The Proud Night Watchman, South Sudan – 2014
When did you meet Kevin Richardson for the first time and under what circumstances?
David: I think I begged Kevin for an audience with him, and it’s as simple as that! I think I bored him into submission and finally he said ‘yes come and see me’. I had known of him, I knew about his great work and I just wanted to find out if there was some way we could collaborate and maybe I could take some immersive photographs with his lions. That was probably back in 2012.
David and Kevin working on assignment in South Africa
After photographing the lions, do you feel a special connection with them and does it worry you to know that wild lions are on their way to extinction?
David: Yes of course it worries me about wild lions. When people talk about the elephant they can always see who the culprit is – the culprit is a poacher, or the ivory trade, far eastern demand or corrupt governments. It’s the same with the rhino – far eastern demand, poachers and corrupt governments; with the orangutans it’s about corporate greed. With the lion, however, there is no one to point the finger at because it is really about population growth. Population growth results in habitat loss and habitat loss impinges on the lion more than any other animal.
When you see a lion or lioness up close, you see how incredibly intelligent they are, how instinctive they are, and how beautiful they are. Beauty, intelligence and instinct are three amazing qualities to have. I’ve been very lucky to be very close to lions, largely through Kevin, and the closer you are to anyone, anything, whether it be a human or an animal, the better you get to know their traits. So yes, through my privileged position, inevitably an affinity has been built up.
David’s limited edition print displayed at an exhibition in Amsterdam, 2016
How do you think fine art photography plays a role in conservation?
David: There’s only two ways it can: one is through awareness and the other is through fundraising. There are no other ways that fine arts photography can play a role in conservation and it would be delusional and arrogant to think otherwise. In terms of money, if everyone said that one million dollars or two million dollars didn’t make a difference, we would be nowhere; but if there were a thousand people that could give one or two million dollars? So I think quite rightly we photographers do our bit as we should and thanks to the generosity of people that buy our art, we are able to get to that number on an annual basis. From an awareness perspective I think photography may be more important. It is only through seeing the beauty of these animals that they register on our consciousness and adds to the current momentum that there is in this sort of zeitgeist that is happening with regard to sustainability and conservation. Imagery and content play a vital role in that and if I can play a small role in the big role that is playing then that is great.
Baby Gorilla, Rwanda – 2011
How do you think you can play a role in saving Africa’s big cats?
David: I can play a minor role by helping Kevin who plays a big role; by helping Kevin raise money and by highlighting to people the important role that Kevin has from an awareness perspective. Kevin is an influencer and if I can take pictures that show the glory of a cat and help him further his influence, then I have a role. What would the world be without lions? There are so many brands that are associated with lions, for example just spotting three lions on a shirt and I know… 1966 World Cup, England. There is so much iconic imagery and events associated with lions. People connect with lions because they are brave, they are predatory and they are proud. Imagine if we had all those things but the lion wasn’t there any longer, it would be quite extraordinary.
And finally… why black and white?
David: We live our lives in colour, and black and white is an abstraction. Someone once said that if you photograph people in colour you see their clothes but if you photograph them in black and white you see their souls. By being reductive the photograph has a timelessness.