Last week’s meeting: Animal Magic – Phil Joyce
To the strains of BBC’s Animal Magic theme tune Phil began his talk with a photo of him as a very young boy with a toy zoo. He was very much attracted to Animal Magic and the way Johnny Morris brought the animals alive to a young audience. Later ITV started its own version of a children’s programme focussing on animal’s called Zoo Time with another Morris, Desmond. Phil was not much taken by Desmond Morris’s more ‘bookish’ approach to presentation and much preferred Animal Magic. In many ways Phil’s photography nodded more to lively Johnny than stuffy Desmond.
After a brief history of zoos – it all began in Woodstock – Phil started showing his zoo photography with a quote from Evan Esar – “Zoo: An excellent place to study the habits of human beings” and began showing excellently observed images of people visiting zoos. Phil’s superb images were matched by his wry and amusing commentary of what people were doing and what they looked like in relation to the animals they were watching.
He then went on to images of the actual animals, species by species, and listed the various techniques and approaches and, unlike most presentations we have, encouraged audience participation by asking us what we thought he was trying to do with his approach to various images.
When Phil first started photographing animals in zoos he did his level best to make sure that there was nothing in the shot of the zoo – trying to show wild animals as if they were in their natural habitat. Now he uses the zoo as a backdrop and has no problem shooting an animal using the chain-link fence between Phil and the subject as a visual prop.
Phil had many impactful shots using a wide-angle lens and said you do not need to have a long telephoto lens to get a good shot of an animal in the zoo. You do though need to be clear what you are trying to do and purposely use your equipment, techniques, and your chosen aesthetic so that you take the photo as you intended. Much easier said than done.
There were some very striking uses of light – back lighting was very well used to dramatic effect, underexposure was effectively deployed to get deep black backgrounds. Waiting around for the right light was the key to the success of many of these images and the time of year was important – best time is September through to February when the natural light is low in the sky.
Phil encouraged us to play and experiment with our photography; try new ways, break from the obvious and not to be slaves to convention, saying that the more people do the unconventional then it will become the conventional.
After giving us a visual feast of beasts Phil then went on to show his latest project which is photographing keepers at the Cotswold Zoo and the challenge of engaging in a collaborative photography initiative.
In the question-and-answer session at the end Helen S raised a very good point about whether Phil saw his work as a ‘poem’ or as a ‘police report’. If Johnny was still with us he would have answered more a ‘poem’ than Detective Inspector Desmond’s ‘report’.
A very entertaining, enthralling, and interactive evening