How the toss of a coin led to this dazzling photograph
AFTER last month’s piece on New Year resolutions, here’s one that could send you off in the footsteps of my friend Emily Gellard, 24, from Mottram.
She’s an inspiration for young and old, with most people’s bucket list ticked off by the time she was 20.
Just back from a trip to photograph polar bears in Svalbard, the wanderlust soon kicked in, and a year ago Emily spread out a map of the world and tossed a coin into the air, saying to her friends, ‘Wherever this lands, I’m going for 12 months!’
As the coin span in the air, there was a tangible excitement in the room with all eyes on the Lucky Dollar as it hit the Pacific and began to roll south, before spinning tantalisingly close to Easter Island, in the South Atlantic, turning on itself once more and coming to a halt on Brazil.
And that was that, with all those present 100 per cent sure that Emily would be as good as her word. Indeed, she has been there ever since, but that is just part of the story.
Emily studied photography at university and had always had a passion for adventure.
Her first trip, when 19, was with best friend Lois Green, of Glossop, when the pair volunteered in the Amazon rainforest for one month.
Emily says that although they didn’t see a Jaguar, her imagination was fired up to one day spot and maybe photograph this amazing feline. It was then on to Africa and spending a month of volunteering in Botswana.
Emily says: “It was a phenomenal experience that consisted of spitting cobras in our tents, the sound of hyenas at night and waking up to elephants and hippopotamus bathing in the river. That kicked in the travelling bug and a few months later I saved up to go to the Arctic on my own to photograph the polar bears.
“I spent about 10 days on the boat and it wasn’t until the final day that we managed to spot them, about 20 polar bears on one huge glacier.”
While studying, Emily travelled to Australia, hired a campervan and drove down the east coast alone, before flying to New Zealand and driving round the entire south island photographing the magnificent scenery. This was followed by three months in a remote part of Sumatra deep in the heart of the jungle to try to view and photograph the illusive Sumatran tiger, without any luck.
After finishing her degree, with an eyewatering itinerary of travel under her belt, Emily, in search of even more adventure, completed a skydiving licence as she was planning on incorporating this into her travelling as well.
At the age of 22, and as good as her word, Emily followed the spin of the coin to the Pantanal Wetlands of Brazil, and from the outset she was enchanted by the place – the chorus of howler monkeys, the calls of the birds and the talk and excitement of the illusive jaguar that roamed freely through the wetland.
Emily began as a tourist at the Pantanal Jungle Lodge for a three-day wildlife tour but became friendly with the owners, who realised her talents, and very soon became part of the team.
Emily says: “Weeks turned into months and I had made good friends with the staff, learned the language and was adapting to the mosquitoes, the most difficult part, although when you are working in paradise these things become irrelevant.
“After about a month and a half in the Pantanal I got to see my first jaguar, an unforgettably incredible moment.”
It was when Emily shared her jaguar photographs that I realised what a special talent she had, and because I knew her idol was Sir David Attenborough, I got him to send his best wishes to her and a signed picture of himself.
Sir David had just featured jaguars on his new television programme and he was very, very impressed with Emily’s images of this elusive mammal.
Emily knew nothing about the card and when it hadn’t arrived after three weeks I had begun to worry that it may have been lost, but in the end Emily opened the envelope a couple of days before Christmas.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said, “Sir David is an absolute legend!”
A jaguar photographed in the Pantanal Wetlands of Brazil by Emily Gellard
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop