Wildlife photographer David Yarrow spent the onset of the New Year trekking knee-deep through Japanese snow. While many tourists prefer to visit the island of Hokkaido during the summer, Yarrow believes that the winter best characterizes Northern Asia, where blizzards blow a deep, white serenity over the wilderness. Seeming to teeter on the edge of the world, Hokkaido has a tranquility which juxtaposes the chaos of urban life. The calmness exemplifies the Japanese esteem for zen. The snow, which simplifies the surroundings, is the ideal backdrop for photography. Yarrow sought to photograph the red crested cranes and swans, which live on Hokkaido during the winter. He utilized the elegance and mysticism of the surroundings to capture the majesty of the birds, emphasizing negative space through snow, ice, and feathers. ”The greater the cocktail of whites, the greater the possibility of an image that could be ethereal as well as evocative,” says Yarrow. “My approach was to create a dream, not necessarily report on reality.” One month later, Yarrow completely changed scenes by venturing into the wilderness of the Congo, where he encountered his most elusive subject yet: the silverback gorilla. Powerful and imposing, the gorillas lurk under the lowslung canopies of the Congolese rainforests. “To face a fully grown gorilla in his or her natural habitat is one of the world’s great wild encounters,” says Yarrow. Before entering the Kahuzi Biega National Park, Yarrow had already photographed Rwandan gorillas four times. “To be candid,” admits Yarrow, “I have largely failed to do the gorilla’s enormity and strength much justice, [but] my approach has evolved and matured over the years.” Now, Yarrow has a complete comprehension of the technique required to portray the gorilla’s details and surroundings. Rife with violence and instability, the Congo feels detached from the rest of the world. With the loss of 5.4 million lives, the second Congo war, which ended in 2003, was the bloodiest conflict since World War II. However, the remoteness of the Congo is precisely what appeals to Yarrow.
With the help of TUSK and John Kaheyka, winner of the 2016 Prince William African Conservation Award, Yarrow’s adventure in the Congo was a collective operation. In fact, Kaheyka met his first gorillas over three decades ago with the guidance of the same local pygmy used by Yarrow. Yarrow “imposed” himself upon the rainforest, rather than letting the environment dictate his method of photography. This tactic allowed him to take the most effective photographs, while the short lens length required him to venture close to the gorilla. Focus, which “explains, frames and excludes,” is essential in photography.
Yarrow’s piece “The Silverback” features a gorilla with the appearance of perceptiveness and concentration. “I am proud of this photograph,” says Yarrow. “I have put my time in up this mountain, and I suspect that this was my reward.” Yarrow seeks to convey an important message through his photography, which both echoes with the “fragility of our planet” and celebrates its wonder. “Nevertheless,” adds Yarrow, “there is a dark message within the content of [the gorilla image]: the past has not been good to either man or beast, and my wish was that this picture should help conservation efforts.” In March, Yarrow returned to the cold, venturing into Wyoming to photograph the North American animals that roam Yellowstone National Park. He sought to portray the essence of the park by incorporating its trademark geysers. However, the true masterpiece of the expedition was his portrait of a bison— a powerful symbol of the American West. “It will probably be my most impactful animal portrait for some time,” says Yarrow. The photograph exemplifies Yarrow’s ability to capture finite detail. He harnesses this skill to create photography with intimacy and soul, helping to define the region’s identity through art.