Bertie Gregory is just 18 years old, but already he has a number of remarkable wildlife images in his portfolio. He talks to Oliver Atwell about his approach to photography, the future and his involvement with the 2020 Vision project
There is a new young generation of enthusiasts entering the world of photography We profiled one in AP 10 December 2011, when we interviewed 18-year-old macro photographer Jack Hood. We’ve also seen a number of young photographers submitting images to our Reader Spotlight pages. What’s perhaps most impressive, though, is the quality of photographs being produced by these young amateurs, and 18-year-old Bertie Gregory is no exception.
Bertie’s portfolio of wildlife images has steadily grown over the past few years to form an impressive body of work, the likes of which would make any seasoned professional jealous. Crucially, Bertie’s dedication to photography – as well as his passion for the natural world – has led to him being selected as one of 20 young photographers to contribute work to 2020 Vision, a multimedia project that is attempting to address the link between people’s well-being and the restoration of natural environmental systems. The fact that he has managed to accomplish this at just 18 years old makes it all the more impressive. Yet Bertie has received no college or university training in photography, although he is currently studying zoology at the University of Bristol, and is entirely self-taught.
‘My awareness of photography came from my dad/ says Bertie, who comes from Poole in Dorset. ‘He was always taking photographs on holiday. That gave me some degree of understanding of how cameras worked. Since an early age, I’ve always had a passion for wildlife and the great outdoors. When I was 12,1 received a little underwater compact camera for my birthday. My brother was working in Egypt at the time, so I got to go out there with my family and experiment with the camera. I absolutely fell in love with coral reefs and would spend hours snorkelling. None of my photographs were very good, if I’m being honest, but it gave me the practice I needed to form a real idea of how to photograph wildlife within its natural environment.’
Bertie quickly realised that his photography could essentially act as a portal to show his love of the natural world. In many ways his images can help people to understand the environment that surrounds them, and perhaps even inspire them to get out there and explore their world with fresh eyes.
‘Knowing that people are going to be looking at your images really pushes you to try to get the perfect shot,’ says Bertie. ‘You’re doing your best to communicate the outdoor experience, so you have an obligation to do it right.’
Bertie’s images are notable for the wide variety of wildlife that he photographs, both at home and abroad. ‘Things like lions and wolves in other countries are very exciting and I’d never turn down an opportunity to photograph those creatures,’ says Bertie. ‘However, I think it’s incredibly important that everyone has a love of the wildlife that is living just outside their front door. People seem to have this attitude that British wildlife isn’t exciting, but you only have to look at the work of some photographers shooting British urban wildlife to see how exciting our own native animals are. There are fascinating creatures everywhere.’
As exciting as Bertie’s UK wildlife imagery is, one of his most interesting projects occurred some 5,300km from our shores. Last summer, he spent some time photographing bears in Canada. Through a rather clever technique, he was able to produce a selection of images that get about as close as anyone would wish to get to these intriguing creatures.
‘Sometimes I’ll know months in advance what I want to photograph,’ says Bertie. ‘Then I’ll be able to plan every detail. For example, when I worked for a wildlife tour guide in Canada last summer, I knew that I’d be seeing bears so I was able to previsualise the images and work out exactly how I’d go about achieving them. I knew that I was going to be out there for around two months, so I could take my time trying to find great shots.’
The seed of Bertie’s idea came from a desire to get a new and exciting perspective on the bears. ‘I had an idea to leave my camera with a wideangle lens attached on the beach where I knew the bears would be,’ he says. ‘I understood that if they saw the camera they’d approach it right away because it’s an object that’s alien to their environment. Their curiosity would carry them towards it to have a good sniff around. With that in mind, I knew that it would give a perspective that I wouldn’t be able to get if I were there with the camera in my hands-arm, anyway.
I came up with the idea of designing an indestructible housing that I called the “Bear Box” – I had an idea to leave my camera on the beach where I knew the bears would be.’
Bertie constructed his Bear Box out of a Peli case, a waterproof and virtually indestructible casing that’s designed to carry cameras from location to location. After a couple of phone calls, Peli, the case manufacturer, agreed to sponsor Bertie’s project and sent him out some cases to use.
‘I modified the cases by cutting a hole in the side and placing a piece of protective glass over the opening,’ says Bertie. ‘I then put the camera inside and hoped for the best. I had a little red inflatable boat at my disposal, so when I wasn’t working as a guide I was out in the boat. The bears would come down to the shore during low tide.