THE WORLD’S BIGGEST BIG TUSKER ELEPHANT
Taken : Tsavo, Kenya
Date : 15th October 2017
Subject : Lugard – A massive 48 year old elephant in Tsavo.
In my talks, I have been known to say that for me there are four key words in fine art photography and they all begin with the letter R.
Great photography, more often than not, starts with great access. Access has to be found and earned. The platform for this is research. You cannot turn up to Nairobi airport and say: “take me to the biggest elephant in the world”.
Poachers want him too. After a great deal of research, I found the only person who knew his rough location (he is not tagged). We found him by flying a tiny plane at 200 feet above the massive Tsavo ecosystem. I worked with the local conservation trust and a percentage of sales from this image will go back to protecting Lugard. I do a great deal of this now – encouraging a cash trail partnership between the local fixer and me – especially if it has a conservation angle.
Once we knew where Lugard was, we flew near to him everyday and landed on the closest bush plane strip. Tsavo is 12,000 km2 so this is a vast ecosystem and working here was a continuous logistical challenge. When we reached him, he was often not in the clear (he would be eating shrubs in a dense area and if you surprise him, it’s game over – for you). This made remote control work impossible and any kind of transcending imagery very unlikely. Then one day, we got him on a mission to a watering hole and in the clear. All our thoughts revolved around his need for a drink, which I can relate to!
So finding Lugard was one job, getting this image was the next. Both are a bridge too far for those that are not relentless. This was a dangerous picture to take – as Lugard manifestly is moving with purpose and intent. It’s not perfect, as I had two seconds to put the camera down and run like hell.
This is the toughest R to attain and as you get older the bar gets higher. There are only 18 or so big tuskers left in the world – elephants with tusks touching the ground – and the gene pool is at its best in Tsavo. This is unequivocally the best place to photograph these primeval beasts. I photographed two of them that week and Lugard is the big one. That makes this image very relevant – as Lugard is the “King of Kings”.
Less is more. This is a portrait – it claims no loftier goal. My style of using wide angle lenses and being immersive, makes sure that the viewer is asked of no bigger task than to admire nature close up. No big context, no back-drops, no colour. I am asking that the viewers attention be focused on one subject – Lugard!!!