The first photograph was taken in 1825 by French inventor Joseph Niepce. It was the beginning of man’s ability to capture a moment in time. Having a tangible representation of a memory, be able to to study it, and be effected by it. The invention of the camera has had an impact on science and culture, and has since grown to effect us all on multiple levels, daily. It’s cumulative effect on humanity cannot be overstated.
The love of photography has taken me around the world, from mans biggest cities, oldest civilizations, to camping in the bush of Africa. Looking at the world through different lenses has made me see and understand the world differently. I saw life everywhere with intelligence and heart in creatures you would not expect that from. Sitting for hours and sometimes days photographing wildlife subjects I would see behaviours that surprised me and opened my mind to the fact that we may not be all that different than any other creature on this planet.
I spent a particularly long time photographing baboons in the wild in Africa. For several months, I would travel with troops as large as seventy baboons at one time. I would always wear the same clothing and hat so I would not startle them. After some initial uneasiness, they eventually became accustomed to my presence. I moved slowly and stayed still often, so as to not come across as a threat. I will never forget one misty morning in the forest with them. The alpha male had decided to take the entire group up the mountain. They all stopped in the forest. The little ones were always fascinated by this strange creature who was tagging along with them. There was a moment when taking photos that they knew, and could feel my fascination with them. That somehow, they understood what I was doing. I had run into this with other creatures as well. It was my gorilla in the mist moment but with baboons. Baboons have a bad reputation because they are mischievous but they are highly intelligent and are largely misunderstood.
I grew up in a log cabin in the country and often had encounters with bears, deer, eagles, foxes, and other local wildlife. When I was sixteen, I heard our dog barking fervently out in the forest. I ran a fair distance to get him. When I arrived Buck started running scared back toward the house. I watched him run. Standing close to this tree dumbfounded as to what all the barking was about. Alone now, I heard a noise. I looked up and there was a large black bear shimmying his way down the tree beside me.
I froze there, a bit scared. A few feet away, the bear got to the bottom of the tree and just sat down and looked at me. I faced my fear and stood still, and we looked at each other for a long time. It was a profoundly peaceful interaction. We were both fascinated with what the other was. These interactions with wildlife and other unusual experiences were sometimes unbelievable when you would share the story. This lead to my interest in photography. I wanted to be able to capture these moments and to share them.
I knew I had a lot to learn. I read books about photography and took as many photographs as I could. I always set everything on the camera to manual to force the learning process. Being a pianist myself; I came to understand that beyond the technique involved with the camera, that there were sweet spots in framing a shot that were very similar in expression to phrases in a piano piece. It’s not easy to explain but you know it when you do it. It’s a magical harmony and beautiful poetry all captured in a fraction of a second in one image. It is one of the things about being behind the camera that I appreciate the most. Distilling that true moment.
I became more and more aware of a deeper intelligence and story behind the creatures I was photographing. My photography shifted somewhat as I started to try to get portraits of wildlife in the wild because the question became, “How can I tell the subjects story through my lens?” Which is what I strive to do with my photography. Giving the best representations of the moment.
I like real photographs and stay away from photoshopping things in or out that were not there in that moment. It raises the bar for the moments that are captured because the elements you want in the photo have to be found in the real world and in the same instance.
Randall Nickerson began his career in 1987 as a stage and film actor, before shooting and producing several short fiction and documentary works. He also supported himself through work as a piano technician and Electrician. Among his many interests are flying, playing piano, electronics, and scuba diving, Nickerson’s time in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and Egypt eventually led to his directorial debut, and independent feature-length documentary that will be released in 2018.