The Queen of Tsavo.
Tsavo, Kenya, 2021.
20% of sales in aid of Tsavo Trust.
I can never do anything to prepare myself for coming face to face with a Big Tusker elephant. Each time, it is as if it were the first. I am left in total shock and am instantly teleported to times long ago where sights like this were more common. Never have I encountered any animal or human that commands instant silence and such an amount of respect from all around. Yet, today there are fewer than 25 across the entire African continent. Once prized by hunters as trophies, today prized by poachers for overseas markets. They are on the brink of existence.
The first time I met Dida was in 2017, and I remember Richard (Founder & CEO, Tsavo Trust) telling me every time he sees her, he believes it will be his last. At the beginning of 2021, she ventured away from her herd, which matriarchs do when they feel their time has come. Another giant cow tusker named Mudanda did precisely this before she died in 2017, and so the Tsavo Trust were worried that Dida’s days were almost over. Following some favourable rains, she is remarkably still with us and reunited with her herd looking in better condition. This granted me the opportunity to photograph her again four years later, something I could never have imagined. Dida is one of the oldest matriarchs in Africa, at close to 60 years old. She has guided her herd for decades across a landscape the size of Switzerland. I cannot begin to imagine the knowledge she holds or the stories she could tell of periods of extreme poaching and immense droughts.
In April, I partnered with the Tsavo Trust and spent a week with a monitoring team following her every move. Tsavo can be a tricky location to photograph, with much of the landscape covered in thick bush. Waterholes can sometimes offer opportunities if you can get into position before the elephants arrive to drink. Without the Tsavo Trust’s knowledge, this portrait would not exist.
To me, Dida represents hope and the resilience of nature when given a chance to thrive. It is remarkable that creatures not so different from mammoths still exist in 2021 despite our best efforts over generations. My sincere appreciation and thanks go to the Tsavo Trust for their years of dedication to keeping these last Big Tuskers alive in the wild. Today, they monitor over 30 “up and coming” emerging tuskers that will become the Big Tuskers of tomorrow. With continued efforts, we may witness a time where there are more tuskers in Africa than there are today.
Platinum - 30”x40.48” (unframed) Platinum Palladium Edition of 1.
X Large - 58”x78.27” (unframed) Chromogenic Print Edition of 1.
Large – 48”x64.77” (unframed) Silver Gelatin Edition of 4.
Standard – 38”x51.28” (unframed) Silver Gelatin Edition of 4.
Medium - 28”x37.78 (unframed) Archival Pigment Edition of 8.
Small - 18”x24.29” (unframed) Archival Pigment Edition of 8.
The Huntress of Namiri.
Serengeti, Tanzania, 2021.
20% of sales in aid of The Serengeti Cheetah Project.
Eastern Serengeti is a vast expanse of open plains and is one of the few remaining strongholds for cheetah. Namiri is an area that was closed to tourism for two decades to rebuild numbers and conduct vital research for identifying why this most elegant of cats is on a quiet road to extinction. Today, Africa is home to only 7,100 individuals. They have disappeared from over 90% of their historical ranges as competition for land continues to rise. Cheetahs are perhaps the least adaptive to shrinking habitats of the big cats because larger predators put them and their cubs at significant risk. The Serengeti Cheetah Project found that in the past, cheetahs positioned themselves in further off regions in ecosystems, away from concentrated game where lion and hyena dominate. They also found that only 5% of cheetah cubs survive their first two years, and this figure is decreasing because they are forced into areas with greater competition due to human encroachment on habitat.
Over the week in Serengeti, we encountered 19 different cheetahs, but this brief moment is perhaps my fondest memory of all. We found this female cheetah on the hunt, searching for her next target. However, the moments in nature with an element of calmness and silence are what I search for. At the time, it feels as if time has been paused, with nothing else existing but me and the subject. At this very moment, I am totally connected and can make the image. These few and far between moments pass by in a matter of seconds, but to me, they feel like minutes that stay with me forever as memories and in photographs. Termite mounds are dotted across the vast plains of Eastern Serengeti, providing the perfect vantage point for cheetahs on the hunt, but they also form an idyllic stage for intimate portraiture that assists in an undisturbed connection.
For cheetahs to have a future, we have a lot of work to do in putting them on a stage for the world to see how threatened they have become. I hope my portrait will raise awareness for our fastest land mammal and support The Serengeti Cheetah Project. Their dedicated research can lead to a fine-tuned conservation strategy to better protect cheetahs across Africa as we advance into a more uncertain future.
Platinum - 30”x32.29” (unframed) Platinum Palladium Edition of 1.
X Large - 58”x62.44” (unframed) Chromogenic Print Edition of 1.
Large – 48”x51.67” (unframed) Silver Gelatin Edition of 4.
Standard – 38”x40.91” (unframed) Silver Gelatin Edition of 4.
Medium - 28”x30.14 (unframed) Archival Pigment Edition of 8.
Small - 18”x19.37” (unframed) Archival Pigment Edition of 8.
Amboseli, Kenya, 2020.
20% of sales in aid of Big Life Foundation.
I find it a daunting task to portray such a famous and well-photographed individual, and I think most photographers from all genres would agree. For a new image to be a success, something must be unique, which is not always easy.
After Tim's passing (the largest recorded tusker in over 35 years), Craig is arguably the most famous of all African elephants. Of course, it was primarily due to his mammoth-like tusks, but Craig is such an exceptional elephant in that his character is as unique as his ivory. I found it hard to understand how trusting and friendly this elephant was when he is well aware of the danger his most magnificent feature places him. I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with several tuskers over the past few years. On several occasions, I have witnessed them sticking their tusks inside bushes to hide them from humans, face the opposite direction, or other elephants moving in front to conceal the mighty tusks.
His character is as unique as his tusks because, within the same Ecosystem, other tuskers such as Tolstoy do not have anything like the same temperament. If Craig were not the legend that he is, this portrait would not exist.
I wanted my portrait of Craig to be different from anything I had taken before, which is why I chose to visit the Amboseli Ecosystem in October when the dust becomes the defining feature of the area. I used a remote-controlled camera not to disturb him with a vehicle blocking his path. However, when he heard the first click of my camera, he stopped, which caused the ultra-fine Amboseli dust to rise around him. I took five photographs before he continued walking towards the water, and in the next frame, the dust covers the bottom half of the frame, distracting our attention from his tusks.
I see the end photograph as an almost biblical scene with Craig appearing to be standing within the clouds. What could be a better setting for one of the largest and most famous elephants on our planet?
I want to mention special thanks to Richard Bonham (Big Life Co-Founder, CEO) for facilitating the Big Life Partnership and for hosting me in the Chyulu Hills since I was 18 years old. To Daniel (Big Life Ranger) for being with me every moment of each day and for his dedication to conservation. Without his knowledge, understanding, and excellent tracking skills, this image would never have materialised. And to the entire Big Life Foundation team for their dedicated efforts in securing a future for the entire Ecosystem and the people and wildlife that live within.
Platinum - 30" x 31.17" (unframed) Platinum Palladium Print. Edition of 1.
X Large - 58" x 60.27" (unframed) Chromogenic Print. Edition of 1.
Large - 48" x 49.88" (unframed) Silver Gelatin Print. Edition of 4.
Standard - 38" x 39.48" (unframed) Silver Gelatin Print. Edition of 4.
Medium - 28" x 29.09" (unframed) Archival Pigment Print. Edition of 8.
Small - 18" x 18.70" (unframed) Archival Pigment Print. Edition of 8.
© James Lewin Photography 2018-2021