Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Orangutan watching a butterlfly © Ian Wood

Orangutan watching a butterlfly © Ian Wood

The eyes have it

Our lives may have shrunk, like snails, into our homes, but the tentacles of Covid stretch far and wide into far reaching sectors. One: the natural world of trees, birds, animals, as we reach out for something, anything, outside our immediate environment. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths was thrilled to encounter Ian Wood’s photographs of great apes at the Lucy Bell Gallery.

Walking through the gallery past another rather old species of pop artists to Ian Wood’s great apes, the thing I really notice is their stillness. And their eyes. Large intelligent eyes, watching.

Kiss orangutan ©Ian Wood

Ian Wood has been visiting Borneo and Sumatra for twenty years to visit the great apes, orangutans and mountain gorillas in their amazing forest habitats. But not this year. He is an ardent supporter of these endangered species, photographing them and raising money to protect them from poachers; planting trees for their threatened habitat; supporting education to teach about these endangered animals – although their future is looking brighter, it is not the time to take the foot off the pedal – and supporting doctors in treating the animals when sick or injured.

His first encounter with an orangutan, many years ago, was evidently memorable and left a lasting impression. “I had gone on a walking holiday in Borneo. We’d slung hammocks between the trees to sleep. I woke to find an organgutan close by, just looking at me. I grabbed my camera and took some photographs. But it was a crappy camera and when I got back to the UK they were crappy photographs. So I went back the next year with better cameras.”

Eyes are the window to the soul

Chimpanzee © Ian Wood

Chimpanzee © Ian Wood

My heart melts at the sight of those wide open, glistening, eyes, windows to the soul. Through Wood’s lens you can see the specialness of the animals – their tenderness to each other, their curiosity, trust, honesty, intelligence and their family care. “Genetic analysis suggests that humans and chimps diverged four to eight million years ago and that at least 98% of the human and chimpanzee DNA is identical.” No wonder we are drawn to them; we recognise them.

My favourite  image was an orangutan observing a butterfly with its hands spread out as if inviting the insect to land on him. It is one of Wood’s too. “It took me about a week to get that shot.” I imagine all wildlife photography requires infinite reserves of patience to capture a particular, tanatalising moment. “I had noticed this particular animal being really interested in the butterfly and I wanted to get that expression with the insect.”

Wood must have masses of special experiences and memories of these great beasts. “I was threatened by a great silverback mountain gorilla once, he rose up, beating his chest.” On his hind legs he would have been quite a bit taller than Wood. This is a time when you don’t follow your natural instincts. “The last thing you do is to run away. What you do is crouch down, show you are not a threat.”  Eventually the animal realised Wood wasn’t a threat – he calmed down and moseyed off.

“A silverback has a silver saddle on its back. Its role is vital as he protects the members of his group and directs activities such as nesting, feeding and migration between seasonal feeding areas.”

Conservation holidays

Borneo orangutan; Joy Tanjung Puting National park, Indonesia; © Ian Wood

One of Ian’s main passions is the great apes which he has photographed regularly in the wild over the last twenty years. He has raised significant funds by taking small groups of people to see these animals in their forest homes and making donations from these trips to conservation projects protecting critical habitat.

Online auction

Since this year, due to Covid 19, Wood has been unable to visit the animals or to conduct these group trips, to raise badly needed funds he has produced this range of limited edition prints of mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans. These images are available for sale in different sizes at the Lucy Bell Gallery, with 25% of the takings going to support the work of these conservation organisations.

The first edition of each photo has been signed by Sir David Attenborough, Jane Goodall and founder and director of the Orangutan Foundation, Ashley Leiman OBE. These prints will be auctioned with the proceeds from the sales going to the relevant NGO.

The Orangutan Foundation UK

Founded in 1990, The Orangutan Foundation UK ‘s approach to conservation goes beyond that of purely protecting orangutans. It recognises that orangutans are essential to their habitat, which is unique in its rich biodiversity and is crucial for local communities, who are as dependent on the forest as the orangutans. Their forest regeneration programme has planted tens of thousands of trees to extend critical habitat in Borneo.

“Conservation is more than protecting a species, it is about saving nature which includes us, ‘the fifth great ape’. The efforts of all of us to prevent climate change will be seen as a defining moment in history, for humanity’s sake and for the health of the whole planet.” Ashley Leiman.

The Jane Goodall Institute

Silverback Gorilla Uganda © Ian Wood

Founded by renowned ethologist and conservationist Dr Jane Goodall, the Jane Goodall Institute’s projects in Africa are ground-breaking in empowering local people to become involved in sustainable programmes making them  partners in conservation. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. In 1900 there were about one million chimpanzees, today there are 340,000.

Everything is connected – everyone can make a difference.

Ian’s Wood Popup Exhibition is at Lucy Bell’s Gallery, 46 Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea  TN38 0EJ to 14 November 2020. Open (times may change) Thursday-Saturday, 10am-5pm.

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Posted 20:55 Monday, Oct 26, 2020 In: Photography

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