Alpine Eagle Foundation – Full Story – Part 3
Like all good stories this one begins with a meeting – one between falconer Jacques-Olivier and photographer Rémi Chapeaublanc in 2014 after he returned from Mongolia.
Jacques-Olivier Travers, apart from being publicly known for being the first falconer to install miniature cameras on his birds, is above all a great lover of the white-tailed eagle. This fishing eagle disappeared from Europe a hundred years ago because of human persecution by hunting. Today its breeding territory extends over the whole of northern Asia, but without ever setting foot in France where it was abundantly present three generations ago.
Jacques-Olivier admired this eagle when he was a child, fascinated by what was the largest bird in Europe with its 2.5m wingspan. And very early on he pronounced that if humans had caused the disappearance of this animal, then we should also be able to bring it back to its original territory.
Indeed, most children dream of saving a fawn or a swallow that has fallen from its nest. In any case, it was my dream too to be able to save animals, so much so that to begin with I considered studying to be a vet. Like many children’s dreams, it did not come true, but I succeeded in making a living from my passion: photography.
The meeting took place in 2014 during the exhibition of my work Gods & Beast taken in Mongolia a few years earlier. This photography questions viewers on the relationships between humans and animals by placing side by side portraits of humans and animals – all photographed in the same way – that I encountered while exploring Mongolia. Among these portraits, one of a golden eagle, with its beak wide open, particularly appealed to Jacques-Olivier. It is a hunting eagle used by the Kazakhs to try to catch marmots and foxes, but it is so powerful that legend has it that the Kazakhs have been wolf hunting with these eagles.
Jacques-Olivier, stunned by this photo, contacted me and suggested that I work with him on some of his current projects, such as the world’s highest flight from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. But above all, he gave me almost free access to all his birds of prey to take their portraits. So I found myself in the largest aviary in Europe, photographing magnificent birds such as serpent eagles, bearded vultures and great grey owls.
In parallel to our meeting, Jacques-Olivier has been working for several years on a programme to reintroduce white-tailed eagles with the world’s leading specialists in animal reintroduction. It requires a huge amount of preparatory work, because a whole protocol must be prepared to make captive adults reproduce while ensuring the protection of the offspring (because birds born in captivity don’t necessarily know how to take care of an egg and a chick), and above all without any contact with humans, from near or far. Once this protocol has been designed and precisely described, it must be approved by several local and European commissions. And on top of that, funding must be sourced for such an operation that is spread over many years with very expensive infrastructure.
In other words, not just anyone can save a species, and above all, it takes courage and tenacity to bring such a project to fruition. But this is the crazy gamble that Jacques-Olivier has succeeded in: writing a viable protocol, having it validated by the various commissions and finding the funding to implement it!
I was surprised and honoured when Jacques-Olivier suggested that my work and photos be used for all communication regarding the project and the newly created Alpine Eagle Foundation.
For me, this proposal was a success, but also a childhood dream come true: to participate with my resources in the protection of a species and hope that this could make a difference in the long term.
From an aesthetic point of view, it was obvious that I would use one of my signature graphics: a portrait against a black background. For me, this is the best way to pay tribute to such a majestic bird, by giving it all the respect I have for it visually. Photographing animals, in the same way as humans, is my way of conveying to the public a desire to respect them and to consider them as such. So, it wasn’t a question of animal photography, but rather of studio portraits where the studio is brought to the animal.
However, the technical challenge was great, as there were many unknowns! How do you photograph the birth of a bird? How do you move the public emotionally for this cause? How do you organise a photoshoot to photograph a bird with a wingspan of over 2m in flight?
Once the assignment was accepted, I immediately turned to Fujifilm to find suitable technical solutions:
- I needed an ‘commercial’ quality camera to be able to use the images in any broadcast format and especially for large format printing.
- I needed a camera that was compact enough not to scare the birds that were sometimes very young, and very versatile to adapt to the many shooting conditions we would encounter.
- I needed a very fast camera, especially in terms of focus, in order to be very reactive to these birds which, despite their training, are sometimes unpredictable.
The Fujifilm France team immediately directed me to the GFX100S, to meet these very comprehensive specifications. I decided to photograph this communication campaign with its large-format 100-megapixel sensor and without the need for a spoiler alert, I assure you that I am more than delighted with my choice and Fujifilm’s advice.
I couldn’t have wished for a better camera to carry out this communication campaign, and I will use this camera for other missions in the future.