Pedro Jarque considers himself an animal photographer in the broadest sense, not a wildlife photographer 'stricto sensu'. His interest is focused on portraying the animal as a subject, devoid of context. His photographs are an artistic challenge, not a documentary or reportage photography. He quotes A. Stieglitz: “Photography is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”
Pedro's work is unique and known all over the world. See his impressive list of Awards on his website.
The 1x community is proud to have him as a member.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer the questions in this interview and for taking us in your fantastic own animal world, Pedro.
Briefly tell us about yourself, your hobbies and other jobs.
Photography has been a passion that has accompanied me since I was very young, in the prehistoric analogue era, and had to learn the secrets of darkroom craft developing
However, life took me separate ways and I graduated in philosophy of science at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris, although I never stopped doing studio portraits, often adapted to the small spaces of the Parisian houses where I lived. I like all types of photography, but I always had a predilection for portraiture, and my great project, for a long time, was to make studio portraits with animals.
How has your history and life experiences affected your photography?
Which are your most important experiences that has influenced your art?
When I was a kid in Lima (Peru), near my house there was a large pond full of frogs and tadpoles. I had the opportunity to witness the entire process of metamorphosis of the frogs up close and I was fascinated. But one day I came to the pond and there were no more frogs or tadpoles. Someone had poured kerosene to kill them. They never returned. This caused me a strong impact and I realized the fragility of animal life. Fragility that nowadays is more obvious than ever.
I think this experience made me aware of the drama that was beginning to unfold and I wanted to do something to help become aware of this. "Man has turned earth into a hell for animals," said the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in the 19th century. And while the world is designed so that living beings eat each other to survive, our moral conscience holds us accountable for the way we position ourselves with respect to this unavoidable fatality and how we should proceed. I do not believe that any suffering or torture of animals should be tolerated today.
Describe your overall photographic vision.
I consider myself an animal photographer in the broadest sense, not a wildlife photographer strictu sensu. My interest is focused on portraying the animal as a subject, devoid of context. On the other hand, my photographs are an artistic proposal, not a documentary or reportage photography. It could be said that this is creative photography, and, as such, enjoys the freedom to express an idea that combines an aesthetic aspect with an intention. As it is an artistic proposal, there is an alteration of the image that in my case consists of darkening the background, and sometimes working on the lights and shadows, but always emphasizing or attenuating the existing lights and shadows (dodging and burning). In the end it is a question of interpreting the real and original scene, but without distorting it. There is no staging, since the central element, i. e. the animal, is not altered, it is only highlighted. In a certain way, besides showing the body, I try to look for the soul of the animal. The key to success is a little luck and a lot of patience.
Why are you so drawn by Nature Photography and animal portraits?
Non-human animals are exceptional models. They have endless possibilities and allow me to explore portraiture in unsuspected ways. Their expressions often invite us to reflect about our own condition. They are like mirrors. With these portraits I try to reconcile with them.
Somehow, through these portraits of animals I succeed in synthesizing my two passions, philosophy and photography.
What is more important to you, the mood,/story behind your images or the technical perfection?
I believe that the technical aspect helps me to show more effectively the conceptual aspect which, in this case, would be the intangible nature of the animal soul. In most cases, the editing of a photograph allows us to reproduce the original scene more faithfully, because the camera has been unable to capture it faithfully, or to show a scene with the author's subjective vision, that is, an interpretation of it. With editing, it can be done much more, but I'm particularly interested in these two aspects. In my portraits this means being able to show the animal how I perceive it and how I want to transmit it.
What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer? Do you prepare carefully the locations where you are intending to photograph?
Most of my photos are made in zoos, wildlife reserves or sanctuaries, were I have access to a wide variety of animals. I think that the classic concept of the zoo is now anachronistic and outdated. Originally their function was entertainment for commercial purposes, but today zoos are the last hope of survival for many species. That is why I prefer to call them "preservation centres", because their role has changed radically. It is often thought that animals should be released. Unfortunately, for many of them their natural habitat no longer exists, or their release would mean their condemnation. Zoos as such will disappear and be replaced by these preservation centres, with a very different philosophy. It will be essential that a strict control is carried out on how to preserve these species and on the justification of keeping in captivity those that require it. Centres that do not meet these criteria should be closed.
Initially I wanted to work with the animals directly in a photographic studio, but logistically it was very difficult, if not impossible, to get a large or dangerous animal into a studio.
So I chose to make the portraits from a feasible (and safe) position and recreate the studio in the edition phase. I started experimenting, and I realized that in the end the result was better, because the animal behaved naturally when not forced to be in a studio. Studio work often frightens or stresses the animal, and the result is a portrait of a harassed creature. So what was initially a constraint ended up becoming an advantage. The animal is often unaware that he's being photographed, or if it is, eye contact is made, but each one from his own safe space. And I often try to get that eye contact, because that is where your consciousness is best perceived and a fascinating interaction develops. I then came to the conclusion that it is not worth forcing the animal to pose in a photographic studio just to get a dark background. If this can be done in post-production, there is no need to disturb it.
What gear do you use (camera, lenses, bag)?
My usual equipment is simple: a Canon 5D MIII camera and a Canon 70-300mm telephoto lens with a mono-pod.
What is your most important advice to a beginner in Nature Photography & animal portraits and how do you get started?
I think the fact that I started doing analogue photography was a good exercise, because the limitation of the number of photos in the film forced me to think well before shooting. Similarly, the fact of not being able to see the result immediately forced me to know the camera well and how it operated. On the other hand, the darkroom laboratory taught me to develop and seek the desired result. Overall, the scarcity of materials was a discipline that taught to be meticulous before and after the photo shoot.
It is also very useful to have knowledge of drawing, as this way you can work volumes, lights and shadows to achieve the desired result without having to resort to the method of trial and error. In this sense, I personally loved to look closely (and still do) at the paintings of the great chiaroscuro masters to learn from them. Especially, Rembrandt and Caravaggio. I try to take inspiration from that wonderful mastery of the light and shadows of the great masters of 16th century paintings and the so-called "tenebrismo" with Spanish masters like Jose de Ribera, which exaggerates this contrast between lights and shadows creating an atmosphere that is sometimes disturbing.
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
Describe your favourite photograph taken by you and why it is special to you?
This photo - Mass Hysteria - has special meaning for me, since it was one of my first prizes, in the Sony WPA 2016 and later it was published by the National Geographic magazine in France in October 2016, when this well-known magazine named me photographer of the month.
This other photo - Ebony & Ivory - has also been of special significance, because it won the 1X "People Choice" award in the 2016 contest and also a first place in the prestigious nature photography contest "Oasis" in Italy.
Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
I like the concept of 1X curated photography. This provides a level of quality that other photo webs lack and forces us photographers to try to keep a good level.
Finally, I believe that the moral duty of a nature photographer today is to awaken collective consciousness about the fragility of the world and to show that we are not the owners of the earth and that we are not the only living beings with a conscience.