Wild spaces and the creatures within

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Wildlife photographer and cinematographer Sean Viljoen talks about the excitement of working with endangered wildlife in Africa…

My work takes me to some of the most remote places left in Africa. While this lifestyle may seem glamorous, the final products only show the peak moments, and a photograph can be deceptive. A beautiful scene often belies an unfortunate fact – while many of these areas still feel untamed, the reality is they are all under immense pressure as human populations expand.

Travelling to fringe areas in unstable parts of the continent comes with a degree of risk, but this risk can be mitigated through good information gleaned from trusted sources on the ground. Africa is a big continent and news of an incident spreads like wildfire. Yet these incidents are often isolated to a particular region or blown out of proportion in the media. Many Africans are keen to travel abroad, but in my opinion nowhere can compare with Africa’s diversity.

Sharks in the Bahamas

My quest for freedom and adventure has led me to pursue a career as a documentary filmmaker, which in turn has unlocked a whole world of meaning and purpose. Having been exposed to wild places from an early age, I have developed a passion for their protection.

My wildlife experiences have provided an authenticity and depth of connection I seldom find in ‘civilised’ society – something pure and unparalleled. Being on foot with a charging elephant, diving with tiger sharks, or having a silverback gorilla brush past you on a narrow forest path all present the same glimpse of the sublime. The sense of exploration that comes from spending time in wild places is extremely inspiring,
but that isn’t the only reason for this pursuit.

Gorillas in Uganda

I feel extremely fortunate to be able to tell the stories of some of the people working on the front line of conservation. Philanthropists, scientists, visionaries and rangers are my companions for weeks at a time – individuals from diverse walks of life, all with a common goal. I am continually blown away by the energy and passion of those who have dedicated their lives to a cause. Without them, Africa’s wildlife won’t stand a chance in a world that doesn’t value our natural heritage highly. These people give us hope and I believe theirs are the stories that need to be told.

To paraphrase German film director Werner Herzog, the purpose of the filmmaker is to record and guide, like the chroniclers of past centuries; to excavate and articulate these collective dreams with
some clarity.

To me, that provides a path to mastery and a vocation that can shine a light on the way forward for conservation, and ask the question: “How do we define progress?”

Chad’s Ennedi Massif

Five most interesting places to film

Chad: Ennedi Massif’s landscape and people.

Botswana: Okavango Delta’s abundance of wildlife.

Uganda: Spending time with the gorillas.

Antarctica: Sailing down the Antarctic Peninsula.

Bahamas: Diving with sharks.

 

Written by Sean Viljoen

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