The caracal (Caracal caracal) may be categorised as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species but its role in South Africa’s Karoo Predator Project captured two wildlife photographer’s attention in 2015. Stunning images captured by Nathalie Houdin and Denis Palanque documenting the shift from conflict to harmony in this livestock farming landscape won second prize in the category Man and Nature during the Terre Sauvage Nature Image Awards (NIA) 2016.
But it also won the IUCN Bourse for its powerful conservation storytelling quality: the objective of the Karoo Predator Project is to understand the ecology and political-economy of predation and to explore ways of protecting biodiversity whilst ensuring sustainable livelihoods. Terre Sauvage Magazine interviewed Nathalie and Denis about the evolution in their photography work as conservation photographers which is reproduced below in English.
How did you become a nature photographer?
Denis: I’m a biologist by training. My father introduced me to photography. At first it was a tool for my research, later I undertook professional training to become a wildlife photographer.
Nathalie: I have always been attracted by nature and animals. After my year of college, I did a photography diploma.
How did you meet?
Nathalie: In 2010, during a report on the reintroduction of the ibex in the Chartreuse region of the French Alps. From there on we decided to work together on big projects by dividing up the tasks.
Denis: Yes, by teaming up we became twice as efficient! Moreover, our sensibilities and our styles complement each other. When we look at our pictures, we sometimes have a hard time knowing who shot what image!
Do you have any favourite topics?
Nathalie: I love the mountains. It is where I worked for seven years on the ibex. But I have very eclectic interests.
Denis: We are photographers of nature in the broad sense, without real specialization. We have a special interest in the conservation of nature, which explains our subject matter on the Karoo desert in South Africa. We believe it is important to change the mindset and raise awareness among the general public.
Is this "Karoo Project" a turning point for you?
Denis: This is our first major award-winning joint story! We met people that we would not have met otherwise: hunters, trappers, breeders ...
Nathalie: They had difficulty accepting our presence, but ultimately the exchange was fruitful. The idea is to show their relationship with the Karoo predators, the caracal and the black-backed jackal as objectively as possible.
What role can photography play in (promoting) a conservation culture?
Denis and Nathalie: We believe that photography has now become an essential tool for conservation. We live in a world that consumes a lot of images. And photography is a powerful medium capable of building a strong and lasting link between, on the one hand, the general public and, on the other, scientists and their sometimes very technical research.
A series of powerful images can be more influential than a report or graphic. It resonates with our senses. A photograph can remain in the memory for a very long time, often more than words! If it is necessary to talk about an important cause or to raise awareness of a conservation problem, the image becomes a formidable tool for raising awareness.
To our minds, all nature photographers should be involved in conservation. When we see the degradation of our ecosystems, we can no longer remain bystanders. The photographer must become an actor for change and put his art at the service of protecting and preserving the subject he loves so much - nature. This is essential for our future.
What are you planning next?
Nathalie: Two years were needed to set up the Karoo project, it took a lot of energy and money. This award is a great reward, but before we embark on another project we want to make the most of this moment first!
Nathalie and Denis are the third photographic team to win the IUCN Bourse, following in the footsteps of Jurgen and Stella Freund (2015) as well as Ann and Steve Toon (2014). This prize money will be used to help fund a field trip to document an SOS project in 2017. Nathalie’s and Denis’ story will be published exclusively in a future edition of Terre Sauvage – a partner to IUCN and its SOS initiative since 2012. See what else Terre Sauvage and SOS have worked on together here.