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Wyoming, Wild West

Interviews

David Yarrow and the American West

David Yarrow is one of the most instantly recognizable fine art photographers working today. His ability to capture both the natural world and our own in an original and compelling fashion has cemented his renown. We spoke to him about his ability for reinvention and his search for the ‘ground truth’ in the world’s remote reaches – most recently, the American Wild West.

David Yarrow captured our attention from the moment he appeared onscreen for our Zoom conversation. When it comes to discussing his ground-breaking photographs and the emotional process of capturing a moment he’s beguilingly frank and open. With his deep connection to the US and his reasons for turning his gaze largely on the Americas, the interview with Yarrow exposed a world of similarities between him and Jimmy Carroll, especially following Jimmy’s recent establishment of a Pelorus office in Austin.

Thrilled to catch up with David following his series in the American West, we were excited to dig deeper into his interest in the USA and his reasons for making a move away from his wildlife-focused photographs. Grabbing our interest from the outset, David explained why he doesn’t label himself a ‘wildlife photographer’, suggesting “there can be a little misplaced pompous authority in people that go to the field with long lenses and photograph wildlife; it’s not necessarily art, it’s more google mapping.”

“The idea of being pigeonholed is dangerous.” So instead, David photographs what interests him. From North Korea to some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, to American cultural icons, and most recently, the Wild West. “I felt that maybe at a time when we’re increasingly conscious of the declining biodiversity of our planet, that to photograph animals in a more immersive way than maybe they’ve been photographed in the past might be a clever thing to do. I saw an opportunity, but now I have moved on.”

Moving On

Drive, Wild West

To Stay Fresh & Relevant

An increasingly saturated market of imitators is a prompt for David to stay fresh. “I think artists should always challenge themselves and always be restless, always be on the move is true music. You don’t see musicians, doing the same genre of work time and time again, because you’ve got to keep alert and not be complacent and want to test yourself.”

Into The USA

In a similar way as Pelorus, David understands the unrivaled opportunity of the USA. From its vast vistas and unique wildlife to the characters that inhabit it, it’s little wonder David has moved much of his business across the pond.

“The American economy is so strong and there’s so much geographical mobility in terms of culture, money, and education. If you’re buying a beautiful new home in Austin, maybe a picture of a rhinoceros isn’t going to quite cut it for you, because what’s a rhinoceros got to do with Austin? From a commercial perspective, and when people want to criticize me -which is fine – they turn around and say, David, he’s a good photographer, but he’s a businessman. That’s meant to hurt me?”

Bonnie, Wild West
Enough Is Enough, Wild West

Responding, Jimmy spoke about how David’s comments on the creative side resonated with him. “Every Pelorus project is a new project because we have to challenge ourselves, we don’t sit back on the laurels of the last project.”

He goes on to link both Pelorus’ and David’s creativity to Post Malone as an artist. “Here, we have a rapper, to begin with, then an acoustic musician. And then you’ve got this identity of who he is and to which he has given his body to that identity through tattoos. If you keep morphing as an artist and a creative, you adapt all the time. It’s a fascinating area.”

In agreement, David concludes: “I’m a visual sponge. An artist is going to have visual prompts, and for them to be immunized to those visual prompts would take many questions.”

The Push West

The Thundering Herd, Wild West

“The greatest story ever told, is the push West.”

– David Yarrow

Propelled by the vistas and the extraordinary people who make up America, David’s fascination with the USA only adds to our excitement of having recently expanded our presence onto US soil.

“Austin has an extraordinary history, whether it be about the Comanche tribe, whether it be about the Mexican War, whether it be the first settlers, whether it’d be about the Cowboys doing the big runs up to Kansas with the cattle. In the 19th century, and looking at what it is now, what an extraordinary period in history.”

“It lends itself to storytelling, because of the visitors, the grandeur of the scenery, and the fact that it was populated by such character-rich individuals that were all going for one thing: better lives. This move West was something where people didn’t know what was around the corner. It was capitalist cowboys, it was prostitutes, it was drunks, it was felons. It was incredibly free of the rule of law, and then also in the mix, there were people that have lived there for 2000 years. So you have that incredible cocktail smorgasbord of people.”

No Currency, Wild West
Chief, Wild West

Capturing the essence of America, “It’s a big commitment because you’re going down a well-trodden path. So we spent a lot of money; I spent $1 million in three months doing stills in the Wild West.”

Similarly at Pelorus, the process behind any tailor-made adventure is so important and requires a lot of expertise to capture the essence of a place. “Now building Pelorus in the States, I am learning what that Wild West is about. Although we offer high-end luxurious experiences to our clients, we also want to bring it back to reality. We have a relationship with Ranchlands and I went out with them, to see how that ranch in Colorado actually works and how it’s protecting the land.”

“We are able to allow clients to experience that, not just the beauty of the national parks. This really brings it together—the heritage and the history of it— and the client can learn and feel a part of it. That’s what I love about this area, you can live it.“

“That’s the same with a lot of places you go as a voyeur. Unless you can really get into the roots of it, and very much like you—researching and getting an understanding of who you’re meeting, the land, the history—is absolutely important and key to what we do.”

Cowboy Culture

Blazing Saddles, Wild West

Introducing Russell Martin’s book Cowboy: The Enduring Myth of the Wild West, David takes a deep dive into his appreciation for the Western lifestyle. “I’m humbled by their culture, and there is an awful lot that I have learned from it. Texans are wonderfully easy people. Our biggest gallery in the world is in Dallas, and this has moved ahead of London which fills us with joy.”

“America has is extraordinary breadth, whether it be urban beauty like Chicago, Louisiana, or the John Ford country. It’s just been over photographed. The heart of what I’m trying to do is, it’s what I call a layer of narrative. You have primary, tertiary, secondary, and the secondary is always going to be the extraordinary backdrops.”

Ain't My First Rodeo, Wild West
Durango, Wild West BTS

“The theme: American West, was a personal anthology. I focused on the Rockies and mountainous areas: Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and the desert areas: New Mexico and Arizona. I think, if I had to pick one state that I would live in as a place of beauty, it would be Montana. It’s amazing the number of people who have homes in Montana and Kenya – it doesn’t surprise me. For people who know both places, they are about the majesty of the outdoors.”

“When people are asked, what is the most geographically spoilt country visually in the world. I think there’s only one answer, which is America. Whoever I’ve taken up there—from Paris Hilton two weeks ago dolled up in a cowboy bar, to shooting with the quarterbacks there soon—there’s no one who doesn’t leave saying, that was one of my favorite days of my life.”

Jimmy raises the encouraging point that “people are really starting to explore their own backyards far more than they ever have done before,” to which David responds with the sad truth that since before the crisis, it has remained relevant that “no prophet is accepted in his hometown, it’s the familiarity that breeds contempt.” We hope that this newfound exploration of home turf continues.

Ground Truth

Giant
BTS David Yarrow Photographing Elephants

“I’m very fond of some charity NGOs, and TUSK is one I have been close to for a long time. Ultimately, the future of conservation is about protecting habitats and buying land where animals can live. It’s very unglamorous, but that is the only way. I will work to continue raising money for good causes.”

Unlike many fine art photographers, David is a philanthropist, respecting and supporting NGOs who understand what it is like on the ground. It highlights the importance of having “ground truth,” as Jimmy describes it (relating this to his eight years in a British Army reconnaissance unit), and the overall feeling in Iraq and  Afghanistan that you had to have “ground truth” to be able to understand what is going on.

“Unless you are on the ground, you cannot understand what the atmospherics are like, what the energy is like. That will never be replaced by technology, and we try to bring that into Pelorus and our stand-alone Pelorus Foundation. We won’t support projects unless we know what is going on and ideally, taking our clients right into them so they can see first-hand.”

Precision, Courage & Time

The Breakfast Club

According to David, what he sees as his competitive advantage is not talent, it’s an ability to invest with “precision and courage.”

“For me, as an original content person, I don’t warm to the idea of photographing an emperor penguin colony with 200 other people. So we’re taking our own plane to Antarctica, followed by another plane and we will camp. This will cost me $500,000, but it will mean that my film crew and I are on our own and then home within eight days. This is a disruptive business model because people haven’t been able to do that before.

When asked what sets him apart from the competition, humble in his approach, David suggests “it is for galleries and collectors to decide. I’m never going to criticize my competition. It’s not competition because photography shouldn’t be competitive. In terms of time allocation, I’ve been fortunate. Having been single for 12 years and having kids at boarding school allowed me to be self-centered in my time, a lot of people don’t have that choice. I also have a business background, and I think a lot of photographers don’t give enough attention to the business side of their model.”

“In the world of photography now, there are a lot of people I have a huge admiration for and I am honored to work in a gallery on Palm Beach where three of the photographers are Scottish. Harry Benson for example, who has shot the Beatles and multiple US presidents, is a dear friend who taught me something about photography: “A great picture can never be repeated.” This is something that resonates with David and he tries to learn from it. Similar to Pelorus’ process of delivering a customized adventure; no two experiences are the same, each is totally unique.

 

“You’ve got to make every inch of the frame sweat. If you have a dinner party for 12 people, all those 12 people have got to earn their place at the dinner table. A picture should be like that; every constituent part has got to pay their dues.”

– David Yarrow

Durango, Wild West