A LEOP­ARD DOESN’T CHANGE ITS SPOTS

David Plum­mer is a top wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher, and works in the world’s most ex­otic lo­ca­tions. Di­ag­nosed with Parkin­son’s, he’s now us­ing his im­ages to raise aware­ness of the con­di­tion

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - AMANDA RI­LEY- JONES

The in­spir­ing story – and won­der­ful im­agery – of UK wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher and Parkin­son’s suf­ferer David Plum­mer.

“NA­TURE HAS AL­WAYS BEEN MY

OB­SES­SION,” says Bri­tish pho­tog­ra­pher David Plum­mer. “My ear­li­est me­mory is, aged two, bring­ing slaters (woodlice) in from the gar­den and rolling them into balls across Mum’s cof­fee ta­ble!” At seven, his fa­ther built him a bird ta­ble and, from the mo­ment a fe­male spar­row came down, the young­ster was hooked.

The fol­low­ing year, David ( right) bought a sec­ond-hand SLR cam­era and man­aged to get a full-frame shot of a blue tit in its nest. By 14, he was skip­ping school to cy­cle down to the North Kent marshes near his home in South East Eng­land to pho­to­graph wad­ing birds on the mud­flats.

He left school with an im­pres­sive aca­demic record. Not know­ing what to do, he ended up join­ing Lon­don’s Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice Force. But wildlife and pho­tog­ra­phy re­mained his pas­sions. “At the top of a tower block, look­ing out for crim­i­nals, I’d be watch­ing the kestrels,” he laughs. When he trans­ferred to Grand Cay­man, he spent ev­ery lunch hour scuba div­ing among the trop­i­cal fish, tur­tles and stingrays.

At 26, David took the leap to work­ing to­wards be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher. “I moved to Sus­sex and did var­i­ous odd jobs – which in­cluded clean­ing and care work – in or­der to sur­vive while I built my con­tacts and work ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says. “Be­ing a vol­un­teer pho­tog­ra­pher for the Sus­sex Wildlife Trust was a turn­ing point.”

THESE DAYS, David is a re­spected wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher, teacher and con­ser­va­tion­ist. The 48 year old leads pho­tog­ra­phy hol­i­days to ex­otic lo­ca­tions such as Kenya, Brazil and the Galá­pa­gos, as well as wildlife-watch­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy events in the UK. 1 Rich­mond Park, Lon­don

“This wild deer herd has be­come ha­bit­u­ated to peo­ple, al­low­ing for closer pho­tog­ra­phy. This stag ran out from the bracken roar­ing, so I just took the shot.”

2 Knepp Wild­land, Sus­sex

“King­fish­ers are one of my favourite birds. I’ve got used to set­ting up for them, with a bucket of wa­ter, bait­ing fish and a good perch.”

3 Maa­sai Mara Na­tional Re­serve, Kenya “I was watch­ing a pride of about 20 lions, in­clud­ing about ten cubs. This one was four or five months old.”

1 Ab­bots Wood, Sus­sex “Apart from us­ing a macro lens, it’s field skills that get you close to your sub­ject. I learned mine pho­tograph­ing flow­ers and but­ter­flies closer to home, in­clud­ing this pearl-bor­dered frit­il­lary.”

2 Pan­tanal, Brazil

“This was a sur­pris­ingly easy shot to take and to­tally un­planned. I was teach­ing a group who were scat­tered about me and we were in front of a small pool. I just lay down and the bit­tern wasn’t both­ered by me at all.”

3 Maa­sai Mara Na­tional Re­serve, Kenya “A ze­bra got stuck in a river cross­ing and three lionesses killed it in deep mud. This li­on­ess dragged the car­cass into some bushes and I waited over an hour to get this shot of her look­ing di­rectly at me. They don’t view you as prey when you’re in a ve­hi­cle, but it can be quite chill­ing when they look straight into your face.”

4 Maa­sai Mara Na­tional Re­serve, Kenya “This adult leop­ard is called Fig lo­cally. I’ve pho­tographed her on and off for seven years or so – she’s not in­ter­ested in our pres­ence! Mother and cub came down the tree and started chas­ing each other, prac­tis­ing killing. All big-cat play is about killing.”

Seven years ago, he started to have tre­mors in his left arm. Aged 40, he was di­ag­nosed with Parkin­son’s dis­ease – an in­cur­able neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion with symp­toms such as tremor, rigid­ity and slow­ness of move­ment. “There were some dark months, but all my life I’ve cho­sen to be pos­i­tive. I know I’ll lose func­tion, but Parkin­son’s has gal­vanised me to be alive. I’ve de­cided to grab life by the horns!”

When he’s tak­ing pho­tos, David’s only con­ces­sion to his con­di­tion is to use faster shut­ter speeds to coun­ter­act cam­era shake. If he’s lead­ing a trip on the far side of the world, he f lies ahead of the group so he can have a night’s rest in a ho­tel be­fore the tour starts. Voice- dic­ta­tion soft­ware on his com­puter and a newly hired PA (a re­tired man who’s equally pas­sion­ate about wildlife) are help­ing him stay on top of run­ning a busi­ness.

“I don’t think about the dis­abil­ity while I’m work­ing, I don’t care if I’m stiff and aching. I’ll do what­ever it takes to get the shot,” says David, who hap­pily spends hours in a float­ing hide cov­ered in leeches.

“A few months ago, the Parkin­son’s vol­un­teer who helped me turned up on one of my cour­ses. He said, ‘ You were in a bad place but you’re do­ing OK now.’” David has be­come a sup­port vol­un­teer him­self. “I men­tor peo­ple who are strug­gling with the psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pects of Parkin­son’s,” he says.

His book Seven Years of Cam­era Shake, which is filled with stun­ning im­ages taken since his di­ag­no­sis, is in pro­duc­tion. “I want to tell other peo­ple fac­ing health chal­lenges not to limit their am­bi­tions. This book is not about what Parkin­son’s has done to me. It’s about what it has not done to me. I’m seven years down the line and I’m still go­ing strong.”

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