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
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.”