“I know I’ll never see all the things I want to, so images, in print or in video, really provide me the opportunity to experience at least to some degree, many of the world’s natural wonders.”
Regardless of practical limitations, Doug Gimesy’s life – both as a science communicator and through photography – has provided him the opportunity to explore the world in a way that the majority of us can only imagine. As a result, his passion for nature and communication borders on a zealousness that’s finely balanced out with perennial exuberance.
In some ways, this passion was nurtured from a young age despite the fact that Gimesy came into his full photographic prowess later in life. “I think my connection with the outdoors began to develop when I was very young,” he recounts. “My father was a keen alpine skier and our family would spend most winter weekends up in the Victorian Alps. As I got older, I was lucky enough to become an alpine racer and spent a lot of my winters, as well as a few summers, in the mountains both here in Australia as well as overseas.”
With a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, the photographer admits, he was something of an adrenaline junkie when younger. “But with over 10 orthopaedic operations to date, I think I’ve retired from that lifestyle,” he assures me, noting photography has somehow managed to replace the ‘buzz’ that downhill skiing, or other extreme activities, used to give Gimesy.
“While very different, there is some overlap in how I felt as a downhill racer and how I now feel in taking conservation and wildlife photographs, but there are also some very subtle differences,” he responds. “To be honest, on one level, I sometimes associate taking photos with a level of anxiety rather than the pure rush that throwing yourself down a mountain gives you. There’s so much work that can go into a shoot and it all hinges on the click of the shutter – it’s all about the suspense, hopefully followed by the satisfaction of producing a few great images. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of adrenaline – sometimes just getting to a location can provide that – however these are less deliberate, less planned, and much less often.”
Gimesy goes on to add: “Similar to alpine racing, when in the field, photography allows me to get away from much of the artificial, human-made world, and just focus on being there in the moment. I guess racing and photography are both forms of intense mindfulness, its just that doing photography in the wild is more calming and serene overall”.
Today, Gimesy is best known for his photography partnerships with conservation organisations such as WWF and the Australian Conservation Foundation, but it was a long journey that led him to this destination.
After completing a degree in zoology around 32 years ago, the fledgling photographer travelled to the Philippines with ethnomusicologist, Manolete Mora, with the aim of capturing images of the T’boli tribes people of Mindanao.
While a few of his images ended up being used professionally, Gimesy found the costs associated with freelance photography put an immediate career in the field beyond his means.
“That was in the days of film photography,” he explains. “I really couldn’t afford both the cost of travel and the cost of processing, so I actually moved out of the industry and ended up working in science-related communication for nearly 30 years.”
Although he’d put the camera aside for three decades, it wasn’t hard for Gimesy to pick it back up again around four years ago. Starting with a series of images while on a trip to Antarctica, the old skills developed with a film-based device transferred easily into the digital era – and 30 years of communication experience has provided the photographer with the skills to caption images well and tell an engaging story around them, ensuring his work is picked up. As a result, Gimesy has been published online by National Geographic and has also won multiple awards, including winning the monochrome category of the 2015 ANZANG wildlife photographer of the year and a finalist in the Big Picture Natural Worlds Photography Competition. Gimesy has also been nominated as a finalist in the upcoming 2016 ANZANG wildlife photographer of the year competition.
While the old shutterbug skills have returned in force, Gimesy says that doesn’t mean every shoot is easy for him, as he finds certain circumstances particularly challenging.
“Anything that involves a boat is difficult for me as I get awfully sea sick, so travelling through the Southern Ocean to get to the sub-Antarctic islands and Antarctica was tough. I spent nearly a week of the trip laid up in bed to get a few good shots, however it was so worth it, and I will do it again.”
Beyond that, one of the most physically taxing shoots Gimesy has undertaken involved a mission to capture a Fjordland penguin on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
“It took a year of planning, eight days of travel, three days in a coastal rain forest, two days standing in a river where the water was frequently up to my chest. I also garnered some 270-odd sand-fly bites.”
Apparently, the Fjordland penguin chooses to breed under high rainforest canopy in caves and under overhangs, or in dense vegetation, sometimes travelling hundreds of metres inland to gain access to their burrows, making them extremely difficult to capture in transit.
Even more than the physical aspect of the job, Gimesy notes that conservation and nature photography can be emotionally intense and wearying. In a recent photojournalism project at Kangaroo Island, he spent a few weeks with his partner trying to document the many issues surrounding wildlife road trauma.
“We spent a lot of time driving between dusk and dawn when many of the animals were out, and of course the last thing you want to do is hit one and add to the carnage, so that was really stressful”. He adds: “What was most tough about this shoot was when you would come across an animal that had been hit by a vehicle, yet wasn’t dead and was therefore in awful pain. We constantly had the dilemma of asking ourselves ‘Do we take a few minutes and let the animal suffer while we try and get an image that may catch the public’s attention and change people’s behaviour or even government policy, or do we euthanise this animal right now to end the suffering and move on?’”.
However, Gimesy accepts the need for taking the good with the bad, as he has now found himself in a position where he can pursue his passions while also actively communicating to make a change through such a powerful medium. “If done well, photography is an incredibly efficient and effective way to engage people around you in important issues.
“The brain processes images 60,000 times faster than words. They transcend geographic and linguistic barriers and are normally perceived as representing the truth – the reality – of a given situation. All of this makes photography an incredibly powerful tool to help influence people.”
Having received some international notoriety as the photographer seeking to photograph all 17 penguin species, Gimesy also hopes that the medium will not only allow him to build a dialogue about the plight of wildlife and conservation, but will also provide him with a fulfilling pursuit that he can continue following into his later life.
“And, of course, there are a few things on my bucket list that I can’t wait to see. The red crab migration on Christmas Island, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the deserts in Namibia, the Gelda baboons of Ethiopa, and the snow leopards in Mongolia.”
Whatever comes next, we’re certain to expect more excellent photography of the places and animals that Doug Gimesy captures on his travels.
This article was first published in Wild issue 153. Start your subscription today and gain access to the entire Wild experience.