Author Interview: Greg du Toit

Award-winning photographer Greg du Toit spent 10 years travelling and documenting Africa, to create African Wildlife Exposed – A Celebration of Nature Photography

Words: Anita de Villiers

Pictures: supplied

When Carl Jung visited Kenya’s Athi Plains in 1925, the vast savannah with enormous herds of game stretching to the horizon had a profound effect on him, one he described as ‘the stillness of the eternal beginning, the world as it had always been’. This same sentiment is in the epigraph that Greg du Toit chose for his book African Wildlife Exposed – A Celebration of Nature Photography (Awe), published towards the end of 2013: ‘When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.’ – Ansel Adams (US photographer).

Submerging oneself in this wildlife photographer’s gripping images and excerpts from the journal he kept during his journey into what he came to describe as Livingstone’s Africa, the impression of a multilayered work of art grows.

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Greg says he had the dream to publish a coffee-table book ever since he started photography12 years ago. “As each year progressed, the more I saw and photographed, the more in awe I became of Africa and its incredible wildlife heritage. My book became a way of sharing ‘my Africa’. And as time passed, I felt a huge responsibility to do this beautiful continent justice through my images. To be honest, I don’t believe that I achieved this goal but I couldn’t wait any longer as digital cameras and technology are moving so fast that if I did not publish now, I would have not been able to use the earlier slide film and digital images. This was my personal motivation, but the message I want my book to carry is simply that it is not too late to conserve Africa’s beauty.”

Greg started his career in nature conservation in the Lowveld, but as his quest for documenting Africa’s wilderness grew, his canvas became the continent. There are two main areas where most of the images were taken: Kenya’s South Rift Valley, and the Ruaha National Park in Tanzania. The South Rift Valley he describes as “a corner deep in Masai country with no fences, just an untouched terrain where man and animal co-exist according to old unwritten laws. It was here that I submerged myself in a waterhole for three months to finally capture my first images of free-ranging lions.” They’re the same lions that now grace the cover of his book.

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Greg’s description of the pioneering Ruaha chapter of his life paints a Livingstonian picture of exploration, of finding a massive winter thorn forest in the middle of nowhere by venturing into an area that the satellite map only shows as a large green smudge. “The wildlife was shy and when I first arrived in the area, the lions would charge my vehicle before fleeing into the bush. I felt incredibly lucky to find a place in Africa where lions had never before seen a vehicle.”

Greg says, “Learning my trade in isolation meant that the only thing I had to measure my photographs against was to ask myself: ‘Does this photograph do this beautiful creature justice?’ I refused to compromise on this and that is why I think it took me over ten years to do this book, adding just 13 images per year.”

This approach no doubt led to the accolade of Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2013, a competition co-owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide and regarded as the nature photography Oscars. Competing against 43 000 other entries from 96 countries, Greg’s The Essence of Elephants won him this coveted award.

African Wildlife Exposed – A Celebration of Nature Photography is published by HPH Publishing and available from www.gregdutoit.com

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