Sunday, December 09, 2012

Packham in - review of Chris Packham

Chris Packham Goes Totally Wild at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Monday, November 19, 2012

HE may have a rather worrying fondness for poo, but naturalist Chris Packham has a passion for wildlife, a talent for photography and a way of conveying his love and knowledge of nature with infectious enthusiasm.

Packham’s touring show focusses on a collection of his latest photographic images: some taken in the most stunning of environments, such as Antarctica and the South American rainforest; others in his own garden and nearby countryside in Hampshire. 

Even these aren’t exactly the easiest of images to capture though - in a bid to transform common British birds into ornithological pinups, he set up various contraptions and scenery  to capture them at their most stunning - using a garden hose to create “rain”, breaking a hole in a glass sheet and training a blue tit to poke its head through by tempting it with peanuts.

And his attempts to capture starlings at their most stunning end in frustration time and again - “this would be a fabulous picture if it wasn’t for that bird’s wing getting in the way...”.

Packham isn’t a proponent of getting back to nature in all its most basic forms: “Why would anyone want to camp in the New Forest? There are some lovely B&Bs...”, and his stories of the various discomforts of communal living while on location with various scientists, naturalists and film crew; none of which seem to be as fussy as him about keeping things civilised, kept the stories lively.

Saying that, Packham isn’t adverse to putting himself through some discomfort in a bid to pull off the perfect shot; as demonstrated by his five-day shoot immersed in chilly water, photographing damselflies - “I would like to have taken longer over it, but I had other work commitments”. The resulting images were breathtakingly stunning, and combined well with some pretty interesting observations about damselfly behaviour, partly gleaned through the “friendship” Packham formed with one particular male during his stakeout.

Packham confessed that he was a perfectionist who was critical of his own photographs and would never be truly satisfied with any single image; being particularly obsessed with the search for symmetry. He admitted that occasionally he has resorted to digital trickery to help nature along a little - such as in a stunning photograph of a pure-white snow petrel flying past a swag of icicles in Antarctica - and he is quite happy to encourage creatures to perch exactly where he wants them in order to get the best focus, angle and background.

But of course, nothing in nature can be dictated to, and it is clearly this element of uncertainty that provides the challenge that Packham so relishes. I rather hope that he never takes his perfect photograph - it would be a pity if he then gave up the quest.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on November 29, 2012

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