Fordingbridge-born photographer David Bailey
PUBLISHED: 16:04 23 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:04 23 September 2019
Award-winning photographer David Bailey is returning to his New Forest roots with a new exhibition
When a Malaysian company approached Fordingbridge-born photographer David Bailey saying he had been nominated for an international award he thought it was a case of mistaken identity.
"I had to get in touch to make sure they weren't confusing me with the other David Bailey - the fashion photographer," he says today of the Brand Laureate Personality Award which he received in 2016. "I thought it was a wind-up!" He's still not sure who nominated him for the award, which was presented in Malaysia and sent direct to him after the ceremony as he doesn't currently have a passport. Also honoured that year were Adele, Steve Wozniak, Sol Campbell, John Simpson, Andy Serkis and Keanu Reeves among others. "The award is a nice golden figurine," he says. "The downside is I've had to buy a safe to put it in!"
What makes the 64-year-old wildlife photographer's win even more incredible is that he only picked up a camera 15 years ago. He is completely self-taught, having initially worked as an engineer in Dorset. "I had the opportunity to move to the Brecon Beacons for work," he says. "It was so beautiful, I was living in a farmhouse and used to go to the west coast of Wales to photograph bottle-nosed dolphins."
While on the coast he started bumping into professional photographer Janet Baxter, who saw something in his photographs and encouraged him first of all to buy some better gear, and then try his hand at going professional. He now shoots all over the British Isles. "Part of my job is to record what is going on in nature," he says.
A turning point was winning the 2011 Welsh Wildlife Award for his photography. "People took me seriously," says David. He was approached to work with the BBC on the series Rhys Jones Wildlife Patrol which opened up the world of moving pictures to him - the only real difference he finds is the focus. He penned his first book Wildlife Wanderer which covered his first eight years of photographs in 2017, and now writes a column for The Countryman. "I've just finished my second book," he says. "I've got a better camera and better quality images. In terms of telling the stories behind the images I've tried to make it light-hearted."
The title of his first book relates back to his grandfather, who in the 1950s published his own nature book Wanderings in the New Forest. It was looking for New Forest dialect words to include in his book which drew David to the New Forest Heritage Centre and his upcoming exhibition. "I wanted words for the seasons in the New Forest," says David, who first made contact with the centre in Lyndhurst in January. After he attended the preview evening of another exhibition he was invited to contribute something for the autumn based around the New Forest. He has enjoyed going back to his roots, and the place where he learnt some of the secrets of his craft. "I used to exhibit at the New Forest Show," he says. "I listened to what people had got to say about my photographs - I realised it was all very well having a picture of a kingfisher, but it had to mean something to be commercially viable for people to think about buying it."
He admits this spring was not a great time to be taking wildlife photographs. "Undoubtedly the climate has changed," he says. "Last year many animals found it too hot for them. This year the weather has been dull and wet - so they've been hiding away."
Key to the way he works is the time he takes to observe his subject and their habits. "It's about getting to know each individual subject," he says. "Unless I'm with an expert I will spend two or three days observing things before I get into the photography side. Although I always take a camera with me - you never know what might happen. You've got to put the effort in."
He will return to Lyndhurst on 25 March to give a talk at the Community Centre to raise money for the New Forest Heritage Centre. A further talk has been booked at Winchester Discovery Centre on 19 March.
Now splitting his time between Wales and Dorset, he has enjoyed the chance to work in the New Forest again - and has been sharing his memories of the forest in the 1960s with the heritage centre. "The forest round-ups used to be such a big thing," he says. "I remember being thrown in the back of a Land Rover and taking off across the forest to gather the ponies and cattle with all the foresters.
"I'm always looking for new subjects - I would love to find the pine martens in the New Forest if someone can help me with that!"
The exhibition David Bailey: Wildlife Photographer is at the New Forest Heritage Centre in High Street, Lyndhurst, from 14 September to 20 October 2019; davidbaileyphotographywales.co.uk
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