The ad­van­tage of film is that peo­ple can’t see what I’m do­ing. If you shoot dig­i­tally they can flick through and see ex­actly what you’re do­ing

For over 25 years Britta Jaschin­ski has used her cam­era to ex­pose an­i­mal abuse and wildlife crimes. Keith Wil­son finds out why she sees her work as a life-long mis­sion cap­tured in black and white…

NPhoto - - Front Page -

Britta Jaschin­ski rarely stays in one place for long. When she’s not on as­sign­ment – of­ten over­seas, some­times un­der­cover – she ex­hibits at Europe’s nu­mer­ous photo fes­ti­vals. She’s in con­stant de­mand for her hard-hit­ting wildlife por­traits and in­ves­tiga­tive mul­ti­me­dia shows into an­i­mal abuse and wildlife crime. We spoke in the UK, Italy and France, where atFes­ti­val Photo Mon­tier she loop-screened her 12-minute au­dio-vis­ual work, Made in China, to a stunned and tear­ful au­di­ence…

How did Made in China, about the coun­try’s bear bile farms and trade in tiger parts, evolve?

Usu­ally, I do ex­hi­bi­tions and give im­ages to mag­a­zines to pub­li­cise the sub­ject. But this time around I was in­vited to a fes­ti­val, Look 3, in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia. It was set up by [US pho­tog­ra­pher] Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols, and spon­sored by Na­tional Ge­o­graphic. The en­tire town turns into a pho­tog­ra­phy fes­ti­val. I was in­vited to show my work, but they wanted it as a mul­ti­me­dia show, so they lit­er­ally forced me to do it! It was so good, and I was very grate­ful. In fact, I told them after­wards that if it hadn’t been for that fes­ti­val, it would never have hap­pened.

Where had they seen your work in the first place?

[Se­nior ed­i­tor] Kathy Mo­ran from Na­tional Ge­o­graphic saw th­ese pictures at my talk at Wild Photos [now Wild­screen Fes­ti­val] in Lon­don, in 2012. I had just come back from my first trip to China. I showed 70 pictures, and talked for 20 min­utes about the project, and I had two-thirds of the au­di­ence in tears. I got a stand­ing ova­tion. It was amaz­ing. So then Kathy and sev­eral oth­ers sug­gested I do some­thing for the Look 3 Fes­ti­val, but I had to do it as a four-minute mul­ti­me­dia show. That led to in­vi­ta­tions from other fes­ti­vals, and I then went back to China for a cou­ple of things, and added to the show, so it’s now 12 min­utes long. Who knows what will hap­pen next?

Is it still a work in progress?

Yes. I’ve only done two trips to China, but I’d like to go back. I’m just not sure if I’ll be al­lowed to.

Why’s that?

For pho­tog­ra­phers it’s very dif­fi­cult to get a visa for China. If you’re a pro­fes­sional, it can take months, or they don’t let you in at all.

How long were you out there?

Three weeks the first time, two weeks the se­cond time. So not long. But to be hon­est, I wouldn’t want to do it for any longer be­cause there’s only a cer­tain amount of im­ages I can pro­duce and then I just want to get out. This was all shot on black-and white-film, so I had 100 rolls of film in my bag. I couldn’t leave them in my ho­tel room be­cause as a pho­tog­ra­pher, I had to give the au­thor­i­ties the ex­act times I was go­ing to be in my ho­tel. They wrote to me say­ing they were go­ing to check up on me. If any­one had come into my room and found the films and con­fis­cated them, I would have lost the im­ages, but also pos­si­bly got into trou­ble.

So why shoot on film then?

The ad­van­tage of shoot­ing film is that peo­ple can’t in­stantly see what you’re do­ing. If you shoot dig­i­tally they can take your cam­era, flick through and see ex­actly what you’re do­ing. With film that’s not pos­si­ble. I ac­tu­ally had a lit­tle dig­i­tal cam­era which I used to

shoot touristy things, so peo­ple could flick through that. Peo­ple did con­front me and I just said, ‘I’m a tourist’.

Why do you like black and white?

Be­cause it strips away un­nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion. Black and white sits re­ally well with me per­son­ally. I like colour im­ages as well, but when­ever Isee colour im­ages that I like they’re ac­tu­ally monochro­matic! I don’t know why that is, but maybe it’s be­cause my brain can’t com­pre­hend too much colour. I can’t even wear colour!

By us­ing film for so long have you de­vel­oped a dis­ci­plined ap­proach to the way you shoot?

I have ed­u­cated my­self to frame an im­age very care­fully. Also, I never crop any pictures. What you see is what I’ve shot. I wouldn’t crop a thing. All the award-win­ning shots you see are 100 per cent iden­ti­cal to what I get. I be­lieve it’s quite im­por­tant to get the right shot. Some peo­ple I know shoot 2,000 frames to get one pic­ture. For my shot Bro­ken Cats, above [which was a cat­e­gory win­ner in the pres­ti­gious Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year com­pe­ti­tion in 2015], I took two frames. When I look through my con­tact sheets, for ev­ery sub­ject I have there are just two or three photos, max­i­mum.

It makes the edit­ing that much quicker too...

It does! I don’t want to have to go through 2,000 photos. I have the con­tact sheet but I al­ready know what I have. You know, when I took the photo of the chee­tah, I knew that I was go­ing to win an award [the Euro­pean Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year 2010] when I took it. And I didn’t even see the photo be­cause I was shoot­ing on film, but it was such a per­fect shot.

That said, you switched to dig­i­tal this year, swap­ping your Nikon F4 for a D810. What took you so long?

There’s some­thing about the craft of pho­tog­ra­phy that I re­ally like, and an im­age ex­posed on tra­di­tional film and printed on sil­ver ge­latin pa­per is still one of the most beau­ti­ful things for me to look at. But dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy has come a long way and the im­age qual­ity in terms of de­tail, tonal range and colour sat­u­ra­tion is now un­beat­able.

So, what do you think of the D810?

I en­joy the D810 to such an ex­tent that it puts a smile on my face ev­ery time I process the NEF file, be­cause the op­tions are al­most end­less. I’m also de­lighted with the large file size, as most of my print sales are large-scale,

al­though it is too early to judge if the prints will hold the same magic as my ex­hi­bi­tion prints pro­duced from neg­a­tives. I’m en­joy­ing the clar­ity, sharp­ness, de­tail in high and low­lights, and colour sat­u­ra­tion, es­pe­cially when I’m us­ing the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 ED, which is one of my favourite lenses.

Be­fore the F4, what other Nikons did you use?

The FE2 and F4 were the only Nikons I used be­fore the D810. I had both of th­ese cam­eras for a very long time. My FE2 I had from when I was 20. All of my early stuff was shot with a Rollei­flex or a Nikon FE2, which is not re­ally a top cam­era, but I al­ways use re­ally good, ex­pen­sive lenses. Lenses for me are re­ally im­por­tant. I al­ways spend a lot of money on Nikon lenses. You can’t cut cor­ners with lenses be­cause it shows.

Cam­era kit lenses?

Peo­ple come up to me and say, ‘Look at my new cam­era, £300 with the lens!’ I say, ‘OK, the lens? Throw it in the bin straight away! You might as well shoot through a piece of card­board. In fact, you’d get a bet­ter ef­fect. Make a pin­hole!’

So lenses are your fetish?

Yes, I do like my toys, but it’s very min­i­mal­is­tic, my equip­ment. It’s been mostly primes: 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. For the stuff I’ve shot se­cretly, I just use a stan­dard lens, the 35mm. For the bile bears I used a longer lens, the 85mm, be­cause I couldn’t get close enough to them. To be hon­est, when Iwas there I was dev­as­tated, be­cause Ihave a 200mm su­per­zoom lens, which I didn’t take be­cause you can’t carry it if you have every­thing tucked into a lit­tle bag. I could have done so much more with the bears if I could have just got close enough.

Any other gear?

I very rarely use any other equip­ment for any­thing. I never use any lights, or flash. Not even a tri­pod. Well, for my cur­rent project I am us­ing a tri­pod and a light, but that’s another story! [see Vic­tims of Crime, p 99].

How did your in­ter­est in an­i­mal wel­fare start?

I’ve al­ways had a lot of em­pa­thy with all other crea­tures, not just an­i­mals. I re­mem­ber my par­ents would come home and say, ‘Look I’ve found a lit­tle hedge­hog’, or, ‘Here’s a lit­tle bird that dropped out of its nest.’ We al­ways tried to look after half-dead an­i­mals, try­ing to nurse them back to health.

A writer once said I use my cam­era as a weapon. A weapon to re­claim the es­sen­tial re­spect for an­i­mals

So your par­ents felt the same?

Yes, my par­ents have a lot of em­pa­thy for life as well. My Mum re­mem­bers me scoop­ing in­sects and bee­tles from my sand­pit be­cause I was wor­ried that I would ac­ci­den­tally squash them. This is what I do with my kids now. I strug­gle to make a de­ci­sion about end­ing a life. Even when I see peo­ple cut­ting trees down, it hurts me. I feel phys­i­cal pain – my stom­ach turns and I feel like it’s not right be­cause every­thing inside me says, ‘re­spect life’.

This is a feel­ing you’ve had for as long as you can re­mem­ber?

Yes, def­i­nitely. I just sim­ply fol­low my heart and I do what I think I should, but I get picked up from so many dif­fer­ent ar­eas: some peo­ple think, ‘Oh, are you an artist?’ But look­ing at some of my pictures they’re not artis­tic, they’re more pho­to­jour­nal­is­tic. So I don’t know what I am. I think I’m more of a mes­sen­ger, re­ally. I use the cam­era as a tool. In fact, a writer once said I use my cam­era as a weapon. A weapon to re­claim the es­sen­tial re­spect for an­i­mals. Any area where an an­i­mal suf­fers in the hands of hu­man be­ings is of in­ter­est to me.

Was school your first ex­pe­ri­ence of pho­tog­ra­phy?

Yeah. I was at a gen­eral sec­ondary school in Ger­many where they did a pho­tog­ra­phy project, so I im­me­di­ately bought my first cam­era and stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy as a spe­cial­ism, and art his­tory. I then went straight into an ap­pren­tice­ship as a pho­tog­ra­pher, and came to Eng­land in 1990 to study pho­tog­ra­phy. It was a BA, three years. So pho­tog­ra­phy is all I have done all my life. I’ve never done any­thing else. I have taught pho­tog­ra­phy, too, at col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in Lon­don.

Why did you study in Eng­land?

When I was work­ing com­mer­cially, do­ing the ap­pren­tice­ship in Ger­many, I re­alised that I was not go­ing to do that as my ca­reer. I thought ‘There’s got to be more to it than this. I’ve got to be able to weave the mis­sion I feel I have; to spread some kind of mes­sage about the plight of an­i­mals and com­bine that with my pho­tog­ra­phy.’ That’s why Iwent to study in Eng­land. I felt the courses that Eng­land of­fered were much more cre­ative. Ger­mans are very much about the tech­ni­cal side, so I had a very good base when I came to col­lege in the UK, but all Iwas in­ter­ested in then was the creativ­ity of pho­tog­ra­phy, and I was look­ing at all

the fa­mous pho­to­jour­nal­ists, the Mag­num pho­tog­ra­phers. They were my in­flu­ence in un­der­stand­ing what I wanted to do.

Who are the heroes who have in­spired your pho­tog­ra­phy?

Don McCullin is def­i­nitely one of my big­gest heroes. What he did with his cam­era and the mes­sage he got out def­i­nitely made me think, ‘This is pos­si­ble’. In Bre­mer­haven, there’s a zoo called Tier­grot­ten, where I took my photo of the po­lar bear. This was prob­a­bly 20 years ago. That was one of my first mo­ments where I re­alised ‘I can get a mes­sage out with this’. So, I thought: ‘This is what I’m go­ing to do: I’ll go to th­ese places and I’ll doc­u­ment this and en­ter com­pe­ti­tions.’ I in­stantly got a lot of re­sponse. Then I had my book of­fer ( Zoo) from Phaidon. I was still in col­lege and I al­ready had a book deal. So I was very lucky.

You quickly found your niche

Yes, and then there was no turn­ing back. Peo­ple ac­tu­ally lis­tened to me. To sum it up, I have cre­ated a voice for an­i­mals with my pho­tog­ra­phy. That’s prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant thing.

A lot of an­i­mals need that voice. How do you choose your projects?

It’s a com­bi­na­tion of what is ur­gent to say and what I can af­ford to do. For ex­am­ple, talk­ing about the bile bears was some­thing I’d wanted to do for a decade, but I didn’t know how to do it. And I still want to do a big­ger pic­ture of them, be­cause it’s still go­ing on.

It’s def­i­nitely about what’s im­por­tant and how I can make it hap­pen. Tigers are very im­por­tant to talk about be­cause the rea­son tigers are slaugh­tered is be­cause of the high de­mand, mainly from China, for tiger parts. For me, it is re­ally ur­gent, be­cause the rhino and the tiger are the two species that right now are most in dan­ger of being wiped out. So, I need to pay at­ten­tion to this, but it’s very dif­fi­cult be­cause how do you do it?

As a judge, what do you look for in an award-win­ning im­age?

I like to see im­ages that I have not seen be­fore. Some­thing that sur­prises me, moves me, teaches me.

What has been your great­est mo­ment so far?

That’s re­ally hard to say. Re­ally as a pho­tog­ra­pher my great­est mo­ment is when I’m with the an­i­mals and tak­ing photos of the an­i­mals. But I can’t al­ways say that, be­cause most of those mo­ments are not joy­ful. I had an in­cred­i­ble mo­ment when I took Lone Lion [above], be­cause I was on my own in the Serengeti and I self-drove. I climbed out of the car and laid in the dirt with the lone lion just there, and I got an amaz­ing por­trait.

Is it an am­bi­tion to ex­plore more?

Yes, but my pri­or­ity is to do stuff that has got a mes­sage to save the an­i­mals. For the money I would spend on trav­el­ling to other places Icould go back to China and pos­si­bly get a big­ger story, a big­ger pic­ture of the bile bears. Even though it’s so hor­ri­ble to see this and to do this, I know I can do it. I can’t re­ally think about my­self be­cause I do see this as amis­sion.

There was one mo­ment that was a turn­ing point, when I felt that I can­not ever turn away from what I am do­ing now. A bel­uga whale was caught in the wild and taken to Coney Is­land, only to cir­cle monotonously for 23 years in this chlo­rine-filled con­crete tank un­til it died a few years ago. That bel­uga whale just looked at me and Itook the photo above, which won an award. It’s such a lucky photo. That’s when

It’s a mis­sion and I  think if I stopped do­ing it I wouldn’t be able to look at my­self in the mir­ror

I thought: ‘This bel­uga whale is go­ing to haunt me if I don’t get the mes­sage out.’ I felt so grate­ful for this whale. When it died, I wasn’t sure if I was more sad that it had died, or that it had lived for another nine years after I saw it, cir­cling around this fuck­ing aquar­ium. Th­ese are the mo­ments where I feel, ‘How can you turn away from this?’

Will you keep do­ing this un­til your last breath?

I think so. Some­times I won­der why I make my life so dif­fi­cult, but I can’t stop now be­cause I know I can do it and I WANT to do it. It’s a mis­sion and I think if I stopped do­ing it I wouldn’t be able to look at my­self in the mir­ror. I know I can make an im­pact.

The Per­for­mance, Chime­l­ong Cir­cus, Gu angzhou, China Nikon F4, Ko­dak Tri-X-Pan 400 black-and-white film

Bred for Bone, Chengdu, China Nikon F4, Nikon 24mm, Ko­dak Tri-X-Pan 400 black-and­white film Mon­keys on Bikes, Guili n Zoo,C hina Nikon F4, Nikon 85mm, Ko­dak Tri-X-Pan 400 black-and­white film

Belu ga Whale, Coney Is­land Aquariu m, USA Nikon F4, Ko­dak Tri-X-Pan 400 black-and­white film

Nikon F4, Ko­dak Tri-X-Pan 400 black-and­white film Lone Lion, Serengeti Nati onal Park, Tanzania

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