My life, up until 2013, was about earning money to pay my bills, support my sporting exploits and – if I were lucky – provide a few of life’s little luxuries, because that’s what I thought life was about. I worked in the hotel and events industry, supremely dull at times, but it paid my bills and more. I’m ashamed to say that success and money were the motivation.
By Charlotte Cornwallis
In the UK, and I believe much of Europe, the entire culture is centered on possession of materialistic belongings. After 20 years of corporate life, with a nice home, nice car, TV, sound system and all those other wonderful ‘things’, I thought I’d arrived at my destination. Yet I had a bit of an epiphany; just making money wasn’t really enough, it had no real purpose, the journey couldn’t be over, was this really what it was all about?
So in October of 2013, I embarked upon a life changing adventure. I came to Africa, as a volunteer looking to escape, to start a new chapter and within days I knew that my life was going to change forever.
I had always been keen on photography, however, my subjects were usually people or places that I travelled to, but I always wanted to capture moments and emotions in the form of an image, there was always something magical about it to me. Can I make a picture talk and evoke emotion in others? I have been lucky enough to go to some incredible places around the world but nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience at Shamwari Game Reserve as a conservation management volunteer. My heart and soul were captured – no, possessed – by the environment, the wildlife and the trials and tribulations of wildlife management.
On my first day out on the reserve as a volunteer, I got my first glimpse of what can only be described as “magic”. I have loved the cheetah from day one, since David Attenborough introduced me to this elegant, beautiful and ultimately threatened species via his documentaries on the BBC. Never did I dream that I’d be sitting 20 metres away from this stunning cat, seeing with my own eyes those unique black tears, that enigmatic tail swishing and swiping at flies and those piercing amber eyes burning into me and telling me that I can come no closer, yet I can admire if I’m respectful.
It was a breathtaking and magical moment that ignited a passion in me that I had long been suppressing. This was my defining moment, I wanted to capture the magic of Africa, through my lens, not just as a memory keeper but to share the insane beauty that nature provides us and perhaps even educate and inspire others to value and appreciate the majestic beauty of the wild.
The plight of the rhino, the lion, the cheetah, the wild dog, the elephant, the pangolin (just to name a few) is now being communicated across the world. That message has to get out, we have to educate and inform in a bid to change the inevitable future of a life without these animals in the wild.
I am totally bewildered by the human race, yet again destroying something natural and important for the sake of money and dare I say it greed.
I find it terrifying just how easy we find it to interfere with the natural order of things and want to do all I can to increase awareness, increase appreciation and value the importance of ecosystems. I always marvel at the NGO’s and the work they do around the continent in a bid to reduce the threats, educate the world and break through that ignorance barrier by committing to what ‘conservation’ actually entails. It seems like a painful and often thankless task, day in-day out but they persist, against the odds mostly and I admire anyone who devotes their life to that purpose.
Conservation seems to be a term people use to endorse their activity – it’s the buzzword of the day and makes it legitimate in terms of the consumer. What I have learned is that ethics, sustainability and welfare of the wildlife have to be the values underpinning any organisation before they are even entitled to use that word as their ultimate purpose. It’s most definitely a fine line and not as clear cut as some people may think. I know I am still learning, every day.
South Africa is ultimately where my dreams have come true. The canvas of beauty it presents really is insurmountable in my eyes. I find it impossible to find the words to describe the things I’ve seen in my time, and therefore hope that the photos I share do it justice and do my talking for me.
If my images help to tell a story then I will gain solace from that, and if they ignite a passion and desire to help the natural world be protected and conserved, I will feel more pleasure than any money deposited in my bank account at the end of a month.
To support Charlotte’s brilliant work, follow her Instagram feed: @charcornwallis