by Kristel Schneider
I remember I was moved by some of Diasy Gilardini’s images when I first saw them: two little Polar Bears curled up together, Harp Seal pups with fluffy white fur and breathtaking ‘cold’ landscapes.
Pure emotions and intimacy are the ingredients of Diasy’s work. You can feel her love for the subjects and her special bound with the Polar Regions. Maybe deep in her heart she became the vet she wanted to be, taking care of animals via awareness and fighting for what she believes is right, making people aware of how fragile nature and its habitats are.
‘ I always think of Antarctica as a Planet on our Planet. It looks like everything stopped at the time of creation. Everything is in harmony, pristine and pure.’
Can you introduce yourself in a few lines, explain your background and how you got introduced to (nature) photography? I am a Swiss certified expert in finance and accounting by training but my passion for travel, nature and wildlife made me change my career in 2006. Since then I have been a full-time professional photographer specialized in Polar Regions.
In another interview you said that on your 4th birthday you got a little white seal puppy toy and that you always wanted to see these seals in their own habitats. Can you explain what you felt when your dream came true?
After that first trip you visited the Polar Regions many times. What makes you go back there all the time?
Yes it all started long ago… I was only 4 years old when I received a little stuffed seal puppy toy as a gift from my Godparents. My Mom explained that the seal puppy was coming from a very cold place and that it lived on and under the Polar ice. I was mesmerized by those stories. Thereafter, I dreamed to be able to see them in their natural environment. It took me seven years to be able to save the money for a trip to Antarctica but that trip totally changed my life!
I still remember the first landing on Half Moon Island in the South Shetlands. With a lump in my throat I was shaking with the emotion to be surrounded by hundreds of Chinstrap penguins. That day I could not even take a picture and the few I shot were all blurred because of the shaking… 😉
Many times I tried to understand this irresistible attraction to the Poles, which I would define almost as an addiction or an obsession. These extreme adventures transport me out of my ordinary worldliness and lead me to discover my own primitive instincts. By returning to the foundation of existence, I feel comfortable by simply following the rhythm of nature, which inspires deep respect and awareness for the importance of these delicate wild areas. I always think of Antarctica as a Planet on our Planet. It looks like everything stopped at the time of creation. Everything is in harmony, pristine and pure.
Being in the moment, cut off from the hysteria and drama of our “modern” society, connecting with Mother Nature and feeling the oneness of the universe is what brings me back there year after year.
When I look at your images I get moved and I can almost feel the emotion you must have felt at the moment when you pressed the shutter button. I read that in the Polar Regions the animals are not afraid of humans so it is easier to approach them. But they are still wild animals. What do you do to make the animals feel comfortable with you so that you can capture such emotions ? Your landscape images are magical and pure. I can imagine you need a lot of research and preparations for your trips. When you are at your location do you let nature speak by itself on the images or do you have certain scenes in your mind beforehand already ?
There is a huge difference in shooting wildlife in the Arctic compared to Antarctica. Up north the animals have been and still are hunted by the local communities, while in Antarctica animals don’t have any predators on land.
Penguins are extremely curious animals : if you sit down to their level and keep quiet they will often approach to check you out. You obviously would not like to have a polar bear approach you to check out his next meal!
I usually do not pre-visualize the images and simply let Nature speak to me: Be in the moment!
However, in the field and before an assignment I apply my five “golden rules”
Wildlife photography and ethics do not always go hand and hand together.
People fake wildlife scenes to get the perfect picture or go to faraway places to take photos of animals in captivity or attract them to special feeding places. What are the limits for a photographer? Photocontests ban images that were taken in captivity, do you think the same must be done for images taken on ‘feeding places’ ?
I am a member of the International League of Conservation Photographer (iLCP).
The mission of the league is to further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography. Awe-inspiring photography is a powerful force for the environment, especially when paired with the collaboration of scientists and decision makers. As environmental photographers it is our duty to capture the beauty of places at risk and spread a message trough our images.
Nowadays wildlife and nature photography is an extremely competitive field where the word ethics sometimes (too often) get lost.
Ethical is an adjective describing something related to moral principles and we all know that those vary a lot depending on culture and locations.
Personally I put my ethics in front of everything and easily give up a shoot if I think is inappropriate.
No captive animals and/or baiting ever come into consideration in my work.
What are your photography goals, destinations for 2014/2015 and what would you like to achieve ?
I am currently working on a presentation/exhibit/book on the North America’s bears and the issues they are facing due to loss of habitat, pollution, climate change and hunting; I hope to start touring with it by spring 2015.
Meanwhile I am constantly working on the Polar Region project and will be spending some time in the Arctic in the summer and November/December down South.
Can you share with us one of your favorite personal photographs? And tell the story behind it?
One of my favorite images represents a heart-shaped iceberg shot during my first trip to Antarctica back in 1996. It really perfectly symbolizes my love for this marvelous white continent.
It feels like during my first trip there I left a piece of my heart down South and now, every year, I have to go back to check on it.
Do you have any exhibitions or other events coming up?
The first few months of 2014 were really busy with talks and exhibits in Canada and Europe. I will dedicate the second half of the year working on my Polar project and new Bear show.
Before the interview Daisy had a look at Kristel’s website (www.kristelschneiderphotography.com) and picked out images that really popped out for her and she explains why:
I love the intimacy of Kristel’s macro photographs. In particular “Dew drops” is an explosion of light, sparkle and joy.
A treat for the viewer’s eye.