If, like me, it’s always been a dream of yours to explore Africa and go on a safari, be warned: this book will only further fuel that passion thanks to its breath-taking photography of the African landscape and its furry inhabitants.
At over 300 pages, I was a little cynical and assumed that the images would start to get boring and repetitive, but somehow Hayman manages to ensure each photo remains as crisp and fresh as the first. He knows his subject matter well, and that intimacy is the strength of this collection. It’s also beautifully put together in a large, heavy hardback with gilded edges, allowing the images to generously fill every inch of the page without being framed by white space or sharing it with other photos. There is no sense that things have been cut, but instead Hayman includes all moments – dramatic and ordinary, from afar and up close, of cute critters and terrifying ones. It is the embodiment of Africa itself: diverse and beautiful.
When it comes to portraits of the animals, they are not dissimilar to portraits of people. Hayman has a knack for capturing and conveying their personalities, and leaves the viewer considering them as individuals much like humans. The shots range from playful action shots, to strikingly intimate close ups, to majestic and mysterious silhouettes. Some animals stare right into the lens as they skulk through the tall grass, or from their vantage spot in the trees, peering at the camera like it is the voyeur, not the photographer. This kind of unfamiliar perspective challenges the viewer and whatever preconceived notions we have about this world. It gently reminds us that we are the outsider and this world is unpredictable and raw and in this, is self-contained. The camera is always clearly an outsider, never daring to fully enter the world. It’s no secret that the more we leave animals alone the safer they’ll be.
One of my favourite images is a black and white close-up portrait of the “fallen king”- a lion whose mane is congealed in blood. Hayman writes of the significance of this shot, as “images of lions often focus on beauty and nobility. The reality of the species if very different. Wild lions are often haggard and battle-scarred.” His subversion of this popular depiction is breath-taking and emphasises that in the wild, everything is in the constant balance of life and death.
Aside from the visuals, Hayman provides short paragraphs that are scarce but sufficient, keeping the context minimal and allowing the pictures to speak for themselves and inviting the viewer to make their own meaning. This is exactly what photography should do. When Hayman does offer words, they are not indulgent but necessary: “It is an uncomfortable reality that some of the animals depicted living free and wild in these images will die at the hands of humans.” These descriptions serve as powerful reminders that these photos only tell a fraction of story, where cute and cuddly pictures simply cloak the grim reality that nature is violent and bloody, and humans even more so.
Shots of the landscape are equally powerful to those of the animals, and often shows them dwarfed by their environment, swallowed by the expanding sand and sky. Alternatively, the landscape shots without animals, while still stunning, feel soulless somehow. It really makes you understand the warmth they bring to the continent. They are what makes Africa so magical and appealing to us westerners. This, combined with Hayman’s words of warning, highlights the importance of conservation without ever seeming like a lecture. It simply helps us to come to that conclusion ourselves.
The only criticism I had is that for covering such a large diversity of places across Africa, there isn’t a lot of diversity in the animals photographed. However, limited subject is made up for by the broad colour palette which includes not just the predictable warm yellows and browns of the sand and dry grass, but also early morning blues, lush greens in the bush and pink hued water at sunset. It is an Africa scarcely seen.
Hayman writes “in Africa, one sees the very best and the very worst of nature” – but this collection is nothing but the best.