A PHOTOGRAPHIC ADVENTURE PROJECT
The jaguar is the largest feline of America, but one of the least photographed. In Costa Rica, jaguars are now becoming extinct. They are especially discreet and rare on the Osa peninsula, which contains the last large tropical forest on the Pacific coast and one of the greatest biodiversities in the world, including the very rare Baird tapir (Tapirus bairdii), a favorite prey of jaguars.
A dreamy tapir
The aim of this project is to photograph jaguars, directly and with the aid of full format camera traps that I will build myself, and thanks to which it will be possible to reveal an aspect of their existence normally inaccessible to humans. Other felines will also be tracked and photographed, as will their interactions with the world of humans.
A stay of over a year will be necessary for the realization of this project, so as to track the jaguars from season to season and photograph them at different moments in their lives, which is difficult and takes a good deal of time. Investigations will take place both inside national parks and in private areas.
My photographic approach is above all esthetic, before being that of a naturalist. My aim is not simply to “shoot” animals, but to photograph them in their natural environment, with all their dignity. This requires patience, knowledge of their habits, long periods of time in the jungle and complicity with guides, biologists, local associations, rangers, and others.
One aspect of this project entails showing how these felines are increasingly confronted with humans and their activities. In that sense, it hopes to contribute to the fight against deforestation and to the preservation of natural spaces by sensitizing first of all the local population, then the rest of the world. Thanks to its artistic quality it will have an impact on the public and convince people of the urgency of protecting these jungle shadows.
WHY OSA AND ITS JAGUARS?
The Osa peninsula, in the southwest of Costa Rica not far from the Panama border, is a sort of biological concentrate, harboring one of the richest biodiversities in the world. Half its surface is protected by the Corcovado National Park, a true paradise once heavily populated by jaguars and considered to be one of the best places to observe them.
But for a long time, no one has actually seen these animals – only a few seem to remain, spotted by the traces they leave and thanks to the rudimentary camera traps set up by local environmental protection associations. Most jaguars were and still are victims of poachers and of certain farmers who sell them on the black market or kill them, thinking that by so doing they protect their cattle and their family.
However, the situation is not irremediable. Almost the entire peninsula benefits from the status of a forest reserve, and despite the deforestation of certain zones it is not condemned by intensive culture. Thus it is one of the last natural spaces that jaguars could recover – which would favor the survival of the species in Central America. The sensitizing of local populations is thus extremely important in this case, since it would almost be enough to put a stop to direct hunting for jaguars to reclaim their rights.
Osa Peninsula, which harbors 2.5% of the world's biodiversity
WHAT ARE CAMERA TRAPS?
An essential aspect of my project is working with camera traps. These are simple photographic captors enclosed in a waterproof box and provided with an infrared or thermal detector making it possible to photograph any animal that passes in the vicinity. Until now, they have been used in rudimentary form, particularly for scientific (follow up of populations) or surveillance purposes.
Today, we can see the potential of such a device, which we are beginning to master and to use differently. Some animal photographers, such as Steve Winter, the best known, have begun to use it with digital reflex cameras and to make it into a more and more recognized photographic discipline.
I plan to build traps using infrarouge detectors and external flashes, as well as recent full frame digital reflex photo cameras, with a view to obtaining photos of the best possible quality and printable in large sizes. This would be a true “first time ever”, since no existing trap offers a photograph of this quality. But high tech means high cost – which is why setting up these traps requires your help.
A DECISIVE MEETING (MY FIRST TRIP)
I spent February to August 2012 on an exploratory trip on the Osa peninsula. A Costa Rican guide accepted to house me in his cabin in the middle of the jungle. Despite the difficult conditions (no electricity or running water), I was able to make an inventory of the various species living there, serpents in particular, and to photograph various animals, by day and by night.
Face to face
I spent some time observing closely a family of pumas (Puma concolor costaricensis) and once I had identified its territory, thanks to a rudimentary photographic trap, I managed to photograph an ocelot (Leopardus pardalis mearnsi). I even found the footprints of a jaguar a few meters from our cabin!
My meeting with three pumas was a decisive moment. It occurred at the end of my stay: a mother puma and its two young, busy eating a spider monkey, let me get very close and photograph them for quite a while – over half an hour –
without fleeing or showing any hostility, whereas in theory one can at best hope to observe them for a few minutes.
Eaten by pumas - game over
I was able to remain there, sitting at the foot of their tree, and photograph them without the use of a large and heavy telephoto lens. This is what I seek to obtain – this simple presence.
Puma in the jungle
AIM, PARTNERSHIPS AND CALENDARS
On my return, this project will lead to an exposition that the Dupon laboratories plan to set up in their premises in Paris, and for which I expect to find other exhibition places or galleries.
Support and partnerships
Grant “Déclics jeunes” (Start-offs for young people) 2013 from the Fondation de France.
Prix de l’Espérance 2012 from the Fondation de la Vocation.
“Yaguara”, Costa Rican association for the protection of jaguars, is an official partner.
The Dupon photographic laboratories officially support this project and will contribute to the financing of prints and show my work in their exhibition space in Paris.
Marion and Philippe Jacquiet of the Lumière des Roses Gallery support and encourage this project.
Preparatory trip: February through August 2012. During this trip contacts were made with local associations, rangers, biologists, guides, landowners, SINAC and MINAET (National Park authorities).
Realization of the Project: departure for Costa Rica planned for autumn 2013.
Agalychnis callidryas of the Pacific, the forgotten frog