Wonders of nature
PUBLISHED: 08:57 24 October 2013 | UPDATED: 08:57 24 October 2013
Absorbed into the magical underwater world of Jacques Cousteau as a wide-eyed 11 year old, it was the start of a love affair with the wild side of life for Doug Allan.
In the 50 years since that moment, Doug has become an internationally acclaimed wildlife cameraman and has been responsible for capturing some of the most famous footage ever seen of the natural world. He has just published a new book,‘Freeze Frame, about his life working in the polar regions, and this month he will be in King’s Lynn to reveal more about the adventures his career has taken him on, with mesmerising film footage and amazing stories - from being dragged underwater by a hungry walrus to encounters with a polar bear.
Over the years, Scottish-born Doug has filmed all over the world, in every habitat imaginable on land and in water, but it is the latter that has always remained his passion. ““In 1962 I read The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau. It was a real mind opener. I saw underwater was a frontier - like space but accessible,” says Doug, who has just returned from filming whales in Tonga.
He completed a degree in Marine Biology at Stirling University and began a series of diving jobs –- his passion - but it was in 1976 when he first went to the Antarctic as a research diver that his life changed.
“Stills photography was a big thing on the research station; we had a darkroom for processing the films and making prints. My father sent me a very simple Super Eight movie camera and I used that to film some penguins. A BBC film crew briefly visited and I helped their cameraman and suddenly realized here was something that encompassed all my interests,” he says. “One thing led to another and 30 years later I’m still doing it.”
His love of the Arctic and Antarctic has never left him and they remain his favourite places to film. ““I love the Arctic for the challenge. I think polar bears are the sexiest, most charismatic animals on the planet. You just never know quite what they’re going to do with that super intelligence they have,” he says. “Once I was grabbed by a walrus while I was snorkelling off the ice edge in the Canadian Arctic. He came up from right below me without warning, hugged my thighs with his flippers just as they do when catching seals. I looked down, hit his head with my fist, he let go and I swam back to the solid ice.”
He has worked extensively with Sir David Attenborough, as a cameraman on some of the most iconic wildlife series of the past two decades, including Blue Planet, Life, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet. It was his footage of polar bears trying to catch beluga whales in a frozen hole in Arctic Canada and of killer whales working together to tip seals of ice floes in the Antarctic, which captured the imaginations of millions of viewers, and both were on-screen firsts.
Doug is also passionate about the wildlife on his own shores, including the Norfolk coast where he has filmed different bird populations. “The thing that struck me in Norfolk was the 180 degrees of the horizon all round, the feeling like you really were under the dome of the heavens. We also had a coupe of heavy drizzling misty days, with visibility down to tens of metres. Then the big mudflats felt just mournful, disappearing into nothingness creating very atmospheric shorelines.”
See Doug Allan at King’s Lynn Arts Centre on October 27; 01553 764 864, www.kingslynnarts.co.uk
Norfolk has always had strong links with wildlife film-making. It was Anglia Television that made the much celebrated and groundbreaking Survival wildlife series which spanned 40 years and won countless awards around the world.
Now a new generation of film-makers are using Norfolk as their base, with new production company Ember Films set up by globetrotting wildlife cameraman Jonathan Jones at Hingham. Two years ago, Jonathan won a prestigious Emmy television award in America for his film work on the National Geographic Channel’s Great Migrations show, in which he travelled to America and Costa Rica to capture stunning footage of monarch butterflies and jungle ants.
After growing up in Norfolk, Jonathan moved to Bristol to begin his career as an editor, later moving into photography, becoming camera assistant for the cinematographer, Martin Dohrn.
Jonathan says he believes wildlife photography is rapidly changing and that audiences are becoming younger. His says he loves the challenge of wildlife film-making, adding“it takes a lot of time, effort and energy to get the perfect shot - but when you do, it’s all worth it.” www.emberfilms.co.uk