I had been watching three rhinos up close for two hours at Africa Alive! safari park in Suffolk and nothing had really happened, they were happily grazing and paying little attention to me.
Suddenly, sparks flew, and all three began charging around. It was an amazing experience. My heart was pounding and all of the hairs stood up on my arms as these magnificent animals galloped and grunted.
Luckily, I remembered to press the button on my camera to get one of my favourite shots which I titled The Charge.
My career as a wildlife photographer was born out of my obsession with animals. As a kid, I would spend hours watching documentaries, reading my animal encyclopaedia or researching online.
My love of animals was further cemented during my tougher years when I was shunned because of my autism. The creatures and critters I met never laughed, never bullied and were always pleased to see me – the exact opposite of humans.
Growing up with autism wasn’t easy.
At school, when I was 15, I was once told by my teachers that I would never amount to much in life because I had autism and was unable to ‘fit in’ with the other children.
From this point on, I gave up on everything and became very short-tempered and foul-mouthed. These were characteristics I hated but struggled to control because I was plagued by the thought that I didn’t – and never – would fit in.
I suffered from severe mental issues as a result of bullying and attempted suicide several times.
In a bid to turn things around, my mother fought to get me into a private special educational needs school in the heart of the English countryside. My confidence really grew at my new school and this made all the difference.
Luckily, my family and friends have been a great source of support and given me constant encouragement, this has been crucial to building a successful career as a wildlife photographer.
It’s not been an easy road but I feel like I’ve found my calling in life.
I always remember being told that I was a difficult child to entertain, because if it wasn’t animal-related then I couldn’t care less.
Many happy hours were spent outside in all weathers exploring the garden, playing in the mud and watching the many creatures that called it home.
These experiences fuelled great respect for the world, something so many children are now deprived of thanks to the modern, technologically-driven society we live in.
Around the age of 15, I arrived at a frustrating destination— my mind had become my own internal animal encyclopaedia, and I knew the words of Sir David Attenborough’s many documentaries off by heart. But I needed constant stimulation.
I began searching for alternative ways of satisfying my obsession, and stumbled across my mum’s little Lumix compact camera – and set about attempting to photograph wildlife. I was 16 at the time.
I took the camera everywhere with me, but quickly became frustrated by its limited functions; compact cameras do not allow for the photographer to input their own aperture, ISO or to focus manually, so can limit creativity.
Autism allowed me to mentally envisage many different images, such as a white deer photographed against a backdrop of shaded forest, or a zebra with blurred stripes in front of her, but my camera would not allow me to turn those mental sketches into reality.
But everything changed when I got a new DSLR camera on Christmas Day 2015 and I have been busy snapping away ever since.
I love many things about photography, but my favourite aspect is the ability to express my emotions through the images I take.
I sometimes find it difficult to show how I feel and the deep thoughts from my relentless mind, but photography provides me with an outlet for that energy.
Emotions and experiences are key to making good artwork, and I doubt the memories and emotions of past bullying experiences will ever leave me, but I try to use these in a positive way and as ‘fuel’ for my ambitions and to prove my doubters wrong.
There are challenges when capturing these images. It can be lonely, cold and frustrating, and I often fail; but that’s all part of the game and, as I’ve learnt throughout life, nothing worth having comes easy.
I work in wildlife parks across the UK and plan to visit Africa for the first time in the next year or two.
A couple of years ago, I had an emotional encounter with an African elephant at one park in the UK. I had been trying to get a shot of an elephant’s eye for a while, and when I finally managed to get it I remember feeling my spine tingle.
To get the shot, I waited around three hours, and there was never any guarantee that the opportunity would come.
A shot like this takes a lot of time because the elephant needed to be close, and that means gaining the trust of these ethereal giants. She finally came close enough so I could photograph her through the fencing and it was a very moving encounter.
During the coronavirus pandemic, I haven’t had many wild animal encounters from my home base in Suffolk but I have been looking ahead to the future and I feel some of my best work is still to come.
I’ve got two main missions — to raise awareness of the plight faced by the world’s wildlife due to climate change and habitat loss and to raise awareness of autism and mental health conditions.
I’m proud to work with the fantastic World Wide Fund for Nature team on both of these important messages. I am part of the organisation’s group of Artists & Influencers that champion its efforts and also get involved with planning future projects and fundraising opportunities.
We are also busy working on my debut book Wild World, which will be published in Autumn 2021 by ACC Art Books. Some of the proceeds from the book will go to charities promoting wildlife conservation and autism.
I am determined to leave this world having instigated positive change for future generations living with autism.
As told to Sadie Whitelocks.
To see more of Alfie’s images visit www.alfiebowen.photograhy or @alfiebowen
My Life Through A Lens
My Life Through a Lens is an exciting series on Metro.co.uk that looks at one incredible photo, and shares the story that lies behind it. If you have an experience you would like to share, please email [email protected] with MLTAL as the subject.
Source: Read Full Article