Fine art photography, African wildlife, Africa, alternative process, Chris Dei Photography

Tell us about the moment you decided you wanted to be a photographer.

Well there really wasn’t a decisive moment – it was more an evolution of sorts. My early training was in the field of classical music. I was a student at the Conservatory of Music in Madrid when I met my husband who was an engineer. After we married, we started moving from place to place because of his work. Many of the moves were international, often to remote places, so it became impossible for me to take the piano. I bought a camera, hoping it would fill the creative gap. I didn’t know at the time it would become my world.

Did you have any mentors and did they help shape the direction of your photography?

Not in the traditional sense. I did attend workshops in the early years with several excellent nature photographers – Art Wolfe, Frans Lanting, Galen Rowell, George Lepp, Artie Morris. I guess you could say they helped shape the direction of my photography in that I knew that I wanted to do something beyond what they were doing, beyond the traditional color photograph .

What is the key to making a great wildlife photograph? Is it the same as making a great photograph in general?

Photography is an art form. But it is also a craft. You must know the tools of your craft.

The digital revolution has made things simpler on the one hand, and added new levels of technical complexity on the other. Being an excellent photographer is not enough, you must also know when and how to use the multitude of options and combinations available on your camera, and how to access them quickly.

In addition to technical skill – framing, composition, and an understanding of the quality of light, are all critical components of a great photograph. The best way to develop these qualities is by spending as much time as you can studying the works of the masters – not just photographers, but painters, especially the classical painters. Then you begin to see with great sensitivity to those things. I cannot emphasize this enough.

The medium is not really so important. It could be a photograph, a Matisse painting, or a Bach Fugue – great art touches something in us that is universal – something that we share in common as human beings that allows us to feel we are part of a larger picture. The paradox is that one doesn’t really decide to make a great photograph any more than one decides to make a great work of art. That is the antithesis of how the process works. For greatness to manifest, the ego, the sense of “me creating this” must disappear. Any true artist will tell you that. You become one with the moment – in the moment, you allow yourself to become the vehicle, some other energy takes over, you merge into the composition, you become the composition, and then it’s done. How can you take credit for that? It’s a mystery. You just show up… and then move out of the way, that’s all.

What makes your work stand out from other wildlife photographers? Do you have an individual stamp?

That is a difficult question, and probably best answered by one of my collectors.

I would have to say that every artist has a unique vision – a way in which he experiences the world that is a little different than the way most people see it. I have always secretly felt that I had mistakenly been placed in the wrong century…. So it was natural for me to gravitate to the old-world look of sepia tones on canvas or hand-made paper in my work.. Presenting the sense of timelessness – the eternal rhythm of the universe that I experience in the wilderness …and wanting the viewer to feel that too – the sentiment that this piece could have been done at the turn of the century. So perhaps the monochromatic treatment of a subject that most people would never consider presenting without color, to create a feeling rather than an actual reproduction – is a different way to use the camera.

Can you share with us a little about the purpose of your photography and what inspires you?

The purpose – perhaps to evoke a response in people on a deeply personal level, to appreciate the magnitude of what is in our power to protect or destroy….to see the whole universe in the eye of an elephant, and feel the connection with all things. We are all just passing through. We are here for a short time, and then we are no more. Every living thing is entitled to live according to the Divine plan laid out for it. If my work brings a little attention to the splendor of what exists in this world for our benefit, and as a result people come to value the wilderness, and life in all its variety of forms, then it has fulfilled its purpose.

Excellence inspires me. Excellence in any field. My classical training in music helped me develop a great respect for long hours of disciplined study and appreciation for the arts. It’s all connected. The requirements are the same. I am inspired watching an Olympic skater, hearing a world-class musician, or standing in front of a Rembrandt painting.. There is something that manifests at that level, that goes beyond what discipline alone produces – something greater than the individual self. That inspires me.

Would you tell us a little about the Savannah Gold collection? What was the inspiration behind it and what is the process of creating them?

My great love for tradition, and photography as an art form, evolved in the traditional dark room. Several years ago I saw a little landscape photograph at an exhibit, that just blew me away! It was unlike anything I had ever seen.. I knew immediately that I had to learn the process. I contacted the artist, and went to learn the process with him. It is quite complex and it took me a year of trial and error, and a small fortune in gold leaf that went into the trash bin, before I finally felt I had it perfected.

The process involves a multitude of steps starting with the creation of a negative from a digital file, since there are no negatives out of camera anymore. Once you have the negative made, it is then printed in the traditional wet darkroom but in a specific way, combining 2 precious metals – platinum and palladium. I use acid-free translucent vellum so the final print is completely archival. When the print is finished and dried, the next step is to carefully flatten it so that the 24k gold leaf can be applied. The gold on transparent vellum is what gives the final print that surreal appearance of being lit. It is a delicate and multi-faceted process and things can (and often do) go wrong, anywhere along the way. So each one is done like this – one by one – many steps. But the end result is so magical …….

What are the challenges of making a living as a wildlife photographic artist? What are the keys to succeeding at it?

One of the greatest challenges is the continual high financial investment required to do this work. The amount of equipment necessary, and the cost involved in keeping it updated, insured, and safely transporting it internationally, is something few people even think about. Post-production after the shoot requires a state-of-the art computer work station, and constantly updated software and hardware, in addition to the time and cost of keeping up with the learning curve on new developments. Add to this, the cost of travel, the expenses of being on location with a vehicle and small crew, park fees, food and sometimes medical……it can get challenging …definitely. One also has to take into account that this is a very specialized subject matter and although the audience is often more sophisticated, the subject matter may not be as widely embraced.

Success requires a combination of skills and expertise. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a key component of success as an artist. Having reputable and conscientious agents who believe in and represent you and are willing to go the extra mile on your behalf, is invaluable.

On a personal level, I would have to say unfailing dedication, Zen-like focus, and belief in something larger than yourself.

Who are some of the photographers that inspire you?

Much of my inspiration has come from studying the work of the great masters of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Henri Cartier-Bresson and Andre Kertesz were absolute masters of design, and composition. Irving Penn for his masterful lighting and intimate portraiture. Ernst Haas for his painterly compositions and incredible mastery of color and form, and of course Ansel Adams who set the standard for exposing the negative, monochromatic impact and absolute technical mastery of the art form in the approach to nature.

How do you discipline yourself to keep producing?

That’s easy…..I remember reading a quote somewhere “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life…..” That is absolutely true. For me, the thing that requires the most discipline is the time I spend in the studio in post-production after a shoot. This can get tedious at times but no one else can do it; it’s the other half of the digital equation so you just dive in and do it. Not doing it is not an option so you don’t even allow yourself to think in terms of liking or not liking it. Maybe that’s what discipline actually is.

Is your creativity bottled up inside you or is it spewing out and needing to be controlled?

Neither. Creativity is about being fully alive in how you experience the world. We are all creative, but not all of us live courageously enough to allow it to manifest. Miro said “creativity is about expressing with precision all the gold sparks the soul gives off…” I love that. When you connect on a deep expanded level to the world you are in, you Become that. So it is not bottled up or spewing out – it is enveloping you and you simply allow yourself to be absorbed. Then life flows through you like a river.

What is your best work yet?

I haven’t done it. There would be no reason to continue if I had. The pursuit of perfection is ever-inspiring…ever-elusive…

Where can we buy or view your art and what is the average cost?

In the U.S. you can see work in the permanent collection of the Bennington Center for the Arts in Vermont, or the Westwood Gallery in N.J.

Pricing is determined by the size of the piece and on the medium (canvas, hand-made paper or platinum/palladium over gold leaf). Sizes range from 12″ x 17″ (30cm x 43cm) for framed platinum/palladium over gold leaf, to approximately 40” x 60” (101cm x 152cm) for works on handmade paper and canvas. Each limited edition work is registered, limited to between ten and fifteen pieces (depending on its size), and comes with a hand-signed Certificate of Authenticity. Prints range from $1200 to $5000.

What are you looking forward to over the next year?

I am looking forward to a world less driven by greed, and a greater global awareness of the fragility of this planet we live on. I am looking forward to each of us committing to leave this world a little better than we found it, and in so doing set an example for our children to do the same. And of course, I am very much looking forward to doing the best work I have yet to do……