Philip Kanwischer is a Canadian artist focused in conservation and capturing wild moments of the animals he has encounters with, creating a commentary on our relationship with them. “My project ‘Inhospitably Ours’ is an ongoing study of the flux of human intervention into the wild. Manipulation of these wildlife shots create realistic images that challenge the viewer’s sense of whats happening in our inhospitable world.”
With the inspiration from his partner Chloe Kinsella, and after experimentation and learning, he has built his own particular style. With Philip we can submerge in the wild world through a very particular experience, in composed shots between the real and the unreal, following the question about our connection with nature.
“I see each image as a triumph and as capturing a magical moment that cannot be predicted or replicated as I have an interaction with the animal I am photographing. I often elevate these photos post-production; using intricate compositing to reinterpret a wild image and put a conceptual twist on it. Playing with human and animal interactions and taking these images out of their expected realm is something that fuels my creativity.”
You define yourself as a wildlife and fine art photographer, how do you mix that?
I went to art school for photography where I learned the value, history and technical skills relating to fine art photography, but the subjects that I am most interested in are not models in the conventional sense, but animals. I have always been interested in wildlife photography and capturing the intimate moments I witness in the wild. All the wildlife represented in my photographs are as such, wild animals where me as the viewer has to know the subject and be mindful of my interaction with them. I then do sketches of final pieces I want to create and scan through my catalogue of wildlife images to see if I have a shot that will fit the concept. I then combine my wildlife and in studio fine art shoots in Photoshop to create a final unified piece.
Why do you have this special connection with nature and how do you use it in photography?
I have always just had an inherent connection to nature. I was raised in a very outdoor positive environment in the Canadian Rockies and thrived on the adventure and simultaneous calmness that comes from being in the forest. It’s not a stretch to say that I like being outdoors with animals far more than I like being in cities surrounded by people. I am a bit reclusive in nature and find it very easy to drift away in thought, looking for animals and simply wandering with my camera is very meditative to me.
In ‘Inhospitably Ours’ you combine photography, post processing and even figures with aluminium foil (it is actually garbage bags!) to create these magical images where animals appear doing non conventional things. How did you do that? And what did you want to express with it?
For my work I use all animals and reference images that I have photographed in the wild. All the manipulation or displacement of the animals is done post-production to create a social commentary. My goal is always to make my photoshopping as realistic as possible, fooling the eye and creating a sense of eerie uncomfortableness. The images made out of garbage bags started out as wooden sculptures I built in animal forms and then wrapped in plastic. This concept was created from driving around keeping an eye out for wildlife and getting continuously mislead by the surrounding garbage in vague shapes of Jack Rabbits and Coyotes dancing in the wind. A commentary on pollution and litter changing the landscape in the natural realm.
Photographing animals is not easy most of the time, which is the best story you could tell us about some of these magical moments of capturing one with a click?
Patience is a virtue that I am very fortunate to have and lends itself to my work in a major way. It takes a lot of time and trial and error to capture photos of wildlife. Many times I have seen a beautiful bear first thing in the morning and observing him is an honour but he won't turn his face towards the camera, or the lighting is too low to get a usable shot. Trials like this go with the territory, which is why when I do get a shot of the right animal in the right light with the right posture, it is a triumph. A particularly magical moment I just recently experienced was a Great Grey Owl that was very patiently waiting in an overcast sky, for movement to hunt while the sun was setting. The sun broke the clouds and lit up the owl in front of me and in anticipation I got all my settings perfectly focused on my tripod and captured a very special moment. This particular photograph was around 2 hours of waiting once I actually found him.
You’ve appeared in National Geographic, and that’s a dream for some photographers, how do you feel about it? How did you reach that level in wildlife photography?
I appeared as the Photo of the Day on the online publication of National Geographic and was very excited about this honour and pushed my motivation to go forward with photography. I think as with most things the key is always applying and setting your sights high. The more I applied for publications and exhibitions, over time the more I began to be recognized for my work. I think that persistence and understanding the value in your own work really paves the way for success.
Which tips would you give to people eager to photograph wild animals?
Knowing your own limits but more importantly the limits of the animals. An appropriate distance must be kept between you and the animals, preserving the wildness of the animals and their habitat is key. Remaining persistent and patient with your photography practice and asking around via other photographers, galleries or online forums can help you know where to go looking for the animals you’re interested in observing.
For the last question, as you are a conservationist of nature, would you like to send some message related to it to the people?
I want to promote a message of respect for the wild while still enjoying it. Obviously I am an advocate for spending time in nature, but doing so in a way that does not damage the environment.