Buy a camera, wait 53 years, get lucky, anticipate fame and fortune, go back to the day job
This six-image sequence of a drenched Kestrel, one of which was published in the Daily Telegraph on 8 January 2021, was taken just up the road from the West Yorkshire village of Mytholmroyd, birthplace of the former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. The ingredients of a successful image? “Take telegraph wires, a lonely moor, and fit them together.”(1) “Wind. Cold. A permanent weight to be braced under. And rain.”(2) The harsh daily struggle of Calder Valley wildlife is stoic more than poetic, but it is great subject matter for the wildlife photographer. Which is what I now am. Officially.
My interest in photography started at the age of 14 when my father bought me an all-manual East German Praktica MTL3 single lens reflex camera with a 50mm Pentacon f1.8 lens. Photography for fun followed, then something slightly more serious – slides in support of teaching, bringing life in Asia to the classroom in Yorkshire. Now back to fun, my camera a window on the natural world. And hours stood in woods, parks, bushes, beaches, or crawling on my belly in fields full of ticks, in the freezing cold, pouring rain, burning sun. Not for renown and recognition, but for a sheer love and appreciation of nature.
A week earlier, while still under Tier 2 conditions, I had been risking frostbite trying to photograph a pair of Kestrels hunting on the updrafts of Pen-y-ghent, but they were either too quick, too far away, being mobbed by gulls, or the light was abysmal. But the Calderdale Kestrel was a gift. I noticed it as I was driving down Cragg Vale, was able to pull into the side of the road, get my camera gear from the boot, set up in the back seat, use the car as a hide and a home-made bean bag as support, all without spooking the saturated raptor. I had time enough to experiment with camera settings, settling on a slow shutter speed to turn the rain from drops into stair-rods. Then I noticed that the bird would occasionally shake its feathers to clear some of the deluge, so I waited anxiously for the right moment to press the shutter, not my usual millisecond late. Fortunately, not only did I catch the ‘shake-down shuffle’ but also the ‘spin dry’, which is the image the Telegraph was most keen on. I must thank Simon Czapp at Solent News and Photo Agency for spotting the images I posted on the British Wildlife Photographers Group on Facebook, recognising their popular potential, and approaching the main news outlets on my behalf. Unfortunately, recent events in Washington determined that the media’s focus was elsewhere when my images were being offered, otherwise I might by now be retired…
Prof. Michael Parnwell is an Associate Lecturer in ICCE
(1) “Telegraph Wires” and (2) “Wild Rock”, in Ted Hughes, 1979, Elmet, London: Faber & Faber, pp. 126 and 32.