For Canon Ambassador Chris Fallows, being face-to-face with a white shark is the thing that hits the spot, but he’s used to living life on the edge. From his iconic images of jumping sharks to being just feet away from lions, it's fair to say his passion for wildlife and nature runs deep. Chris skillfully creates black and white fine art images that capture the individuality of each animal, while building awareness of the great pressure to survive that some of these great creatures are facing.
“As far back as I can remember, I always had a deep passion for nature and wildlife. I was lucky to have a father and mother who took me to some of Southern Africa's greatest wildlife reserves, and I developed a love of animals from there. My dad was a keen amateur wildlife photographer, and I learned from a young age to sit extremely still in a car. When I started capturing sharks I was incredibly lucky to discover what became a world-famous phenomenon – the jumping, great white! I saved up and bought myself a Canon camera with a 70mm to 200mm lens, and took a couple of photographs that ended up on newspaper covers all around the world.
In 2001, this image [below] went viral. The world was fascinated by it, and it set me on my way to establishing myself as a professional photographer, travelling and seeing wildlife globally.
I remember the day incredibly well. It was shot on film and I took the roll to the lab, hoping that I had captured something special. It's not like nowadays when we look at the back of our cameras and see what's on the screen. I spent an agonising weekend hoping and praying it was sharp. When I walked into the laboratory the following Monday, everybody was clapping and I knew I had something good. This behaviour – when the shark jumps – happens in less than a second. When you're looking through that tiny viewfinder at the back of the camera, you instantly recognise that you've seen something really special. It represents an incredible moment in time for me, both in terms of my career, but also when I look at the power of this huge shark jumping towards me. I'm amazingly grateful that I was able to experience this moment.
I have chosen to focus on megafauna, the really big animals on the planet. I love all forms of nature, but I'm particularly drawn to predators and iconic animals. My feeling is that if we can't look after these, what chance do the smaller ones have? Even the greatest creatures on our planet are currently facing huge pressures. My latest collection is called 'The 11th Hour', which includes twelve of my most well-known works over the last 30 years. Each of the works represent the hours of a clock. Eleven are black and white and the final image is in colour, representing hope. One hour left to save what remains.
Why predators? I love the way they move. They are incredibly beautiful and I would be lying if I said that watching these animals in action didn't excite me. Ironically, I don't like seeing things die, even though I've seen a lot of animals die through natural processes at the hands of predators. But how these animals go about hunting their prey is fascinating. To watch a lion stalk, observing that beautiful movement of the shoulder blades of a lioness, or a shark as it moves slowly, then suddenly builds up speed to launch itself out of the water… it's an incredible thing to see. These animals are so finely honed and refined, whether they are hydrodynamically or aerodynamically perfect. They are at the absolute peak of the game.
When I'm photographing terrestrial animals, I'm usually outside of a vehicle. When you're just a couple of metres away from a lion, you're completely vulnerable. It really heightens your senses and I feel really alive in those moments. It's a natural addiction and is incredibly rewarding. I've spent a huge amount of time getting to know my subjects. You learn to read their body language and get comfortable in close proximity to them. They start tolerating you in their space, which is very rewarding, especially when you capture an image that does them justice. I never lose sight of the fact that many of these animals are dangerous and have an incredibly healthy respect for them. But I don't fear them, as I have learned over many years of working with them that they aren't out to kill me, they just want to do what they naturally do. As long as I'm respectful, I can often get pretty close to them and be part of their world.
Sharks never kill for pleasure – only for a purpose. They are incredibly in tune with the environment and all have unique personalities. Over 30 years of working with them, we've gotten to know individual sharks extremely well and we see many of them year after year, like seeing a room full of friends. There's the shy one that never wants to say anything. The bold one that dominates everything. My wife and I want to leave a legacy in this world. To hopefully have taken less from the earth than we have given back. We want to use the sales of our fine artworks to buy large tracts of land in Southern Africa for rehabilitation and rewilding, to help conserve and protect these animals, making sure they are safe in the wild so that future generations can be as inspired by them as we have been. These animals deserve their rightful place on the planet.”