Renowned South African wildlife photographer Chris Fallows is known for his artistic images that capture the spirit of the animal kingdom. And in 2024, he'll be celebrating two of its most majestic animals—the elephant and the whale. Over the course of 100 days, he'll be sharing one inspiring photo daily that highlights the power, beauty, and spirit of these giant animals.
Starting on January 1, Fallows will publish one new image of either a whale or an elephant on his Instagram account in a project called 100 Days of Sentience. Each photo will be accompanied by a caption that explains a bit more about the photo and what Fallows was experiencing when he took it. He hopes that viewers will understand the connections these gentle giants can build and, perhaps, evaluate how they can be helped through conservation and protection.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Fallows about the project, as he generously provided My Modern Met with a preview of the images people can expect throughout the project. Read on for our exclusive interview, and then go over and follow him on Instagram to be part of 100 Days of Sentience starting on January 1.
How did the idea for 100 Days of Sentience come about?
When I am immersed in nature, be it with my wife Monique on our boat bobbing the ocean or on foot in the bush, I find incredible peace and grounding. Yet it seems all around us, there is turmoil, various tragic wars, and an ever-increasing pace of life dominated by the desire to have more while not considering the consequences of our actions.
I believe many have lost the ability to live in the moment. This feeling of being present is none more evident than when I am with the two largest creatures of ocean and earth, the whales and elephants.
While I am so lucky to have spent thousands of days in their respective companies, others don’t have this opportunity. As such, I wished to showcase some of my works with these sentient giants for people to look at and hopefully transport themselves to the moment I took the photograph.
I want people to immerse themselves, to hear the whales' exhalation, to see water cascading off the huge fluke, and feel the touch of the whales' breath on their skin. Likewise with the elephants, to gaze up at these giants, to imagine their quiet padded foot stroke, the loving embrace of a mother's trunk around her kin, and feel the gentle rumblings of their communication with each other.
It is perhaps ironic that of all the animals I have been so lucky to work with over the past three decades, it is in the company of the two largest that I feel most at peace. This is my simple attempt over the course of 100 days to allow others to feel this sense of sentience through my lens.
What was your selection process for the images?
While I have chosen works that I believe artistically do justice to the magnificence of both whales and elephants, my primary criteria was to select a collection of my fine art photographs that had a strong sense of allowing the viewer to be there in the moment with me.
As such, I wanted each photograph to be a reflection of the emotion and mood, a wash of calmness, a stroke of humility, and a call for everyone to simply find their space in nature.
What are the main characteristics that strike you when you've observed elephants and whales?
An awareness, caring, and a gentleness that certainly aren’t signs of weakness. These are our planet's giants, capable of incredible acts of strength, yet they tolerate me in their space despite all of what my kind has done to them.
How do you hope that your artistry can have an impact on these animals and our environment?
I hope that when viewers of my work look at these giants they are not only awed by their presence but also by their ability to be present.
As a direct personal impact to how my artworks help, all the sales of my Limited Edition Artworks go towards buying land in Southern Africa for the protection and rehabilitation of habitats, as well as supporting selected non-profits doing incredible work to protect our planet.
I'm sure there are a lot of incredible backstories behind these images. Is there one, in particular, that you'd like to share?
There are many indeed, and throughout my 100-day-long daily Instagram posts, I will share many, but my one work called Matriarch, taken in 2019 in Kenya, has a powerful story.
This photograph is of one of the few truly huge female tuskers left on our planet. Her tusks have been her burden, for she is the most sought-after target for the poacher or trophy hunter's gun as a result of them.
I would often try to find her in the huge expanse of one of Kenya's national parks as her ivory was so spectacular and obviously made for impactful imagery, but what I learned with each new encounter was that her ivory was just a small part of what made her truly special.
She was the matriarch of her herd, a herd that’s destiny was shaped by her decisions. Each time she encountered me over the course of several years, she would leave her herd, walk over to where I often lay on the ground photographing her, and reach her trunk out to smell me while maintaining an upright and dominant posture.
In effect, each time she was setting her boundaries, saying I know you are there, I accept you, but this is my boundary, and don’t cross it because that will threaten my family. I am humbled by this huge, completely wild elephant's acceptance and tolerance of me. However, I am inspired by her courage, strength, and leadership.
What do you hope that people take away from the work?
I cannot and refuse to believe that had others been exposed to these animals as I have, that they could ever have raised a weapon to kill one. I also believe that once people are exposed to these iconic animals, they will dig deeper and learn more about them, understanding the key roles each plays within its respective ecosystem and the contribution they make to a healthy planet.
If an observer of my work can reflect on the virtues of the great whales and elephants and then look at our own, I believe that hopefully, in some way, my work can help bridge the divide between sharing or conquering our planet.
What are your plans for 2024?
In January 2024, we unveil a 25-meter-long display of my photographic artwork at Dubai International Airport called The 11th Hour that draws attention to many of our planet's most iconic natural inhabitants that we have lost or are losing. Equally, the exhibition celebrates a few of the icons we have saved through brave and timeous intervention, and hopefully, this inspires more action.
For much of the rest of the year, we will be in remote wildernesses chasing sunrises and horizons, trying to capture spectacular photographs of our planet's natural icons.