Tim Flach's photographic collection asks us to focus on endangered species

| 31st January 2018
A tiger, lowkey photograph.

Bengal tiger, Panthera tigris.

Endangered by Tim Flach
As part of our nature-inspired book review series, WENDYROSIE SCOTT reflects on the beauty and insight in Tim Flach's new photography book, Endangered.  

Endangered acts as a modern day Noah’s Ark of imagery whose subjects - if we’re not careful - could soon themselves become of the past, 'dust'.

This book is beautiful, dramatic and striking: symbolic of its content. It is wisdom-filled, appropriately weighty and akin to an ancient bible. It engenders visions of dust-filled books of past times and lost cultures. Endangered acts as a modern day Noah’s Ark of imagery whose subjects, if we’re not careful, could soon themselves become of the past, 'dust'. 

Photographer Tim Flach is no stranger to making animals a focus for his work. But here, the pictures are presented to provoke and engage the reader emotionally. Attuned to how humans regard animals, he presents pictures that pull on the heartstrings. 

Perhaps our experiences and feelings are not so removed from the animal kingdom, much of which is perilously close to extinction. But the photographer suggests that looking at how we 'feel' (sometimes a dirty word in scientific circles), and how we relate, is surely the way forward. 

Science and art

On first seeing the book and its several stylised images - and as an anthropologist and artist - I noticed an anthropomorphic response and my scientist side screamed, 'contrived'! But the 'artist' in me acknowledged hyper-realist images on an extravagant scale.

The portraiture is profound, sad, insightful and quirky. Flach presents protagonist and photographer: passive and active as inextricably linked. His photos are eye catching and thought provoking: from the beauty of butterflies in flight, to the ethereal Sea Angel and the last living Northern White Rhino. Their stories unfold.

Butterflies
Monarch Butterflies, © Tim Flach, from Endangered by Tim Flach

Photos were shot over the course of 20 months, though the book was years in the making. Flach has worked with experts and naturalists worldwide.

Scientist and zoologist Jonathan Baillie provides accompanying text along with Sam Wells, substantiating the story of each species. Condensing material for the book must have been excruciating. The book’s power comes in succinctly supplying an account that packs a punch, whilst allowing the reader space for personal interpretation. 

Endangered uniquely differs from previous work as it presents a staged, artistic snapshot in captive confines alongside animals recorded in their natural habitat. The Giant Panda is seen looking upon a spectacular natural habitat. But on closer inspection, the reader notices a corner shadow: a window, suggesting that all is not what it seems. Conserving animals in confines such as zoos is far from ideal. 

Outsider animals

The book encompasses the obscure, the ‘non-cute’, and the odd in appearance. The time is now for the 'outsider animal'. In a world driven by appearance (applicable in both human and animal kingdom), these images show that all species are important, and highlight how interrelated planet and inhabitant is. 

Flach posits, “the most important message is that it’s not simply images of animals but that every aspect of our being is influenced by the natural world around us.

With over seven hours a day spent on the Internet, it's clear we don’t have the same sensibilities our predecessors had to their environment. I want to point to the ecological drivers of humanity through portrayals of animals and I chose some candidates to demonstrate that”. 

The 180 photos in the book highlight the plight of a variety of species and the threats they face from poachers, the pet trade, habitat destruction, palm oil production, climate change, cultural belief, and business and industry keen to cash in on their aesthetic properties. Skins, bones, pelts, meat and eggs all are targets.

Wildlife and ecosystems are consistently threatened from all angles, and biodiversity is in decline. But daily planet doom-mongery can negatively impact.

Sentient species

Admittedly some species’ situation is so acute it appears futile to aid. But this book offers a better understanding of the bigger picture, literally and figuratively.

Sea Angel
Sea Angel © Tim Flach, from Endangered by Tim Flach

It is no use sitting crying (note to self) or blaming. People hold the power, by lobbying government and business, cooperatively working with communities, finding alternatives to poaching, seeking sustainable solutions. There are possibilities. 

Flach has made it his place to capture not just animal imagery, but emotion, environment, and the essence of human-animal relationships. He intimately, painstakingly and devotedly pursues the animal story. The book is a beacon, and the pleasure in his work is apparent.

Endangered is the perfect enthusiast or collectors book. Animals are heralded and held on high - not as trophies of poachers and hunters, but in the pages of a book - elevated and respected as the sophisticated, sentient species with whom we share the planet.

And whom hopefully we regard with greater consideration and wonder. It is the conversational book on conservation.

Endangered by Tim Flach

Prologue and epilogue by Dr. Jonathan Baillie, body text by Sam Wells

Abrams, £50

This Author

Wendyrosie Scott is an anthropologist and journalist focusing on design and creative communities. She looks at the positive partnerships between lifestyle trends & the​​ natural world. 

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