What inspired you to create Anima Mundi?
Nature and wildlife have always been a great love of mine. Together with my wife Antonella I’ve written a dozen or more coffee-table books and guidebooks about topside and marine life – we have focused on underwater photography during the past 20 years – but gathering material for such endeavours and working on them during our
twice-a-year holidays abroad and weekends at home was becoming quite a chore as we both had an office job. So after 30 years we finally quit our jobs and decided to devote ourselves fully to what we love best – that is, travelling to remote, exotic places and photographing wildlife! ANIMA MUNDI – Adventures in Wildlife Photography allows me to be my own boss, to make my own creative choices and to follow my own path. Besides, it’s free for everybody to download and enjoy and it will stay so in the future, so we don’t have to worry about compromises – we can make our own choices and freely offer our own field-tested opinion. I’m having the time of my life! We’re not aiming to compete with any other magazine in the line as we’re freely following our own creativity – however I felt a hands-on magazine about wildlife photography and travelling could actually fill a void, as most others are glossy and expensive but also rather devoid of practical, independent advice for those interested in following our footsteps. In this respect ANIMA MUNDI – Adventures in Wildlife Photography isn’t only eye candy for the armchair traveller but also offers sensible, practical information regarding local conditions, travel agencies and facilities to the wildlife and nature photographer.
Tell us about your background in wildlife photography and natural history.
We started about 30 years ago – we were young and inexperienced then of course, but we soon realized that to put together a fully exhaustive feature about a National Park, or even a single species, a lot of time was needed – weeks, if not months – and being both with a company job we couldn’t afford such long holidays. It was heartbreaking seeing our hard-earned tiger photos flatly refused by an editor simply because there were no images of them mating, rearing their cubs or taking down their prey. So we turned our attention to scuba diving and underwater photography, where there was less competition (and also more fun for us!). If one is focused and disciplined enough, the coral reef environment offers fantastic photo opportunities even for the brief duration of a two-week trip, and we were soon able to visit some amazing locations and bring home some very good shots. We built up quite a reputation – I was the first ever to photograph properly both an Oceanic Whitetip and an Oceanic Thresher shark in the wild, and we were awarded the coveted World Grand Prize for the Best Book About the Sea in 2004 at the Antibes International Festival of the Underwater Image with our coffee-table volume Oceani Segreti. We also did a Reef Life and a Sharks guide, and then of course we published our best-sellers, A Diver’s Guide to Underwater Malaysia Macrolife, A Diver’s Guide to Reef Life and A Diver’s Guide to the Art of Underwater Photography. To be honest I’ve lost count of the books we’ve done or the translations they received – but now I’ve finally been unable to resist the call of digital publishing! Make no mistake, I consider myself a glorified amateur – but I take what I do very seriously, and I’m proud to say our writings and images are considered quite valuable by some very serious biologists and taxonomists. Some were even used to name new species. It’s all about passion, and being happy with what one is doing!
What are some of your favourite places to visit?
We find beauty and interest everywhere. For scuba diving, the Red Sea 30 years ago used to be marvelous, and then we moved to Borneo first and Raja Ampat in West Papua later. These I would say are the underwater destinations we love most. Borneo and Raja Ampat in particular are at the heart of the Coral Triangle, the epicenter of marine biodiversity – it’s pretty amazing what one sees there, but it’s also heartbreaking seeing the damage which is being done to the marine environment. During the past 30 years we’ve seen marine life plummet everywhere. That – and the onslaught of age! – has convinced us to go back to topside photography. South East Asia, India and Sri Lanka, Central and Southern America, Eastern and South Africa and even poor battered old Europe can offer some fantastic encounters, but of course one must know where to look and with whom to go. With the end of the civil war now Sri Lanka can be safely visited again at last, North-Eastern Poland was a fantastic surprise for us. Costa Rica, Ecuador, India, South Africa, Madagascar and Peru have been some of our recent destinations, and Namibia and Taiwan are beckoning. Our readers know by now that I have a very specific fondness for snakes and frogs, so these subjects somehow dictate our choice of destination …but there’s a whole world out there, and to those who have eyes and know how to use them it’s still full of beauty and surprises. ANIMA MUNDI – Adventures in Wildlife Photography was created for exactly that – to freely share beauty and information with those who care, at no cost at all. Sustainable ecotourism – such as that for wildlife photography – can really help locally, and I’m firmly convinced the free global sharing of information would solve a lot of the world’s problems. Then again, I have always been a lover of science fiction and fantasy…
What advice do you have for keen wildlife photographers who are interested in breaking into the professional market?
Well, I don’t really feel I am in the best of positions to offer advice – as I have never considered myself a true full-time professional. Anyway, I am firmly convinced that the first and most important thing to do is to learn about one’s subjects, being thoroughly conversant with their life habits, their behaviour, their habitat and so on. So my advice is read and read, and learn as much as you can – know your subjects, become your subjects, this will double the chances of a good shot and will also double the enjoyment. I’m also a keen proponent of strictly disciplined behaviour in the field – silent stalking, perfect camouflage, absolutely no manipulation or staging and so on. It’s like playing at cowboys and indians again, but it does work! But seriously – if you know what you are doing and you are disciplined and motivated enough – you’ll be able to publish something sooner or later, if that is what you really consider important. Of course you also have to be a good photographer, and that is half practice and half sheer instinct, a natural quality. But reading and learning constantly helps a lot in getting better!
And who/what have been your greatest inspirations, in terms of photographers, or books you have read?
Oh, my idols – when I was young I desperately wanted to learn diving and explore the oceans after the late Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his incredibly influential television documentary series, The Man and the Sea…the man started it all, all my underwater work I owe to him. I can still hear the title music ringing in my years – after 40 years! Later on I also found inspiration in the works by David Doubilet, Doug Perrine and Howard Hall, among others. In topside photography I have always greatly admired the work of Frans Lanting, Steve Bloom, David Hemmings and Nick Brandt – but they’re in an alltogether different league, pure artistic genius at work! I also like a lot of Andy Rouse‘s recent work – but there’s so many incredibly good nature and wildlife photographers out there nowadays, the digital age has opened so many doors – just think of ANIMA MUNDI – Adventures in Wildlife Photography, it’s a channel open to anybody which would have been simply unthinkable until a few years ago.