Professor Heather Angel
A phenomenon in both natural science and professional photography, Heather
Angel is an example of all that is best in both disciplines. John
Chillingworth finds that her achievements in the past thirty-eight years,
leaves many of the self-promoting ‘names’ in photography scrambling in her
Take a cursory glance at the achievements of a 5’ 1” tall dynamo whose
forty-seventh book, ‘Natural Visions’, was published simultaneously in the
UK and the US in February you may admit that Heather Angel, natural
scientist and nature photographer walks tall in a grand tradition!
Let’s talk numbers. Because her father was a serving officer in the RAF, as
a child, she attended 14 schools in the UK and New Zealand. Despite such
educational insecurity, she achieved a BSc Hon. degree in Zoology and a MSc
for her thesis in marine ecology at Bristol University.
On her way to becoming visiting Professor in the Department of Life Science
at Nottingham University in 1994, she received the old RPS ‘Hood Medal’ for
her contribution to the advancement of nature photography.
It was followed by the Medaille de Salverte from the Société Française de
Photographie, an Hon. DSc from the University of Bath and the Louis Schmidt
Laureate (the premier award of the BioCommunications Association of the USA)
What’s more, she was
President of the Royal Photographic Society (1984-86), worked in 44
countries, as well as writing and illustrating 47 books over a period of
twenty-eight years, created seven solo exhibitions, and as many wildlife
calendars. She has talked on radio, made ten TV appearances and has tutored
at numerous workshops and seminars.
As well as undertaking commissions for various organisations and publishers,
she travelled the world from 1980 to 1999 giving 19 keynote lectures at
conferences and other events. She also wrote learned papers on aspects of
still photography in Biology and Medicine.
The numbers game alone
leaves one gasping, but there is more to Heather Angel than a closely typed
four page Curriculum Vitae.
Unlike the gender-specific rumblings of some in professional
photography, the Angel phenomenon transcends every artificial boundary
placed by the feminist fringe and the macho-male periphery.
Married to an oceanographer and with a 22-year-old son, she combines the
tireless, enquiring nature of her scientific mind and an articulate visual
sense with a substantial degree of business acumen.
Changing the name of her substantial photo-library from ‘Biofotos’ to
‘Natural Visions’ she now has a web-site (designed by her son, Giles). On
it, she projects the sale of reproduction rights from her own 350,000+
transparencies, a collection recently increased by the work of other
wildlife photographers for whom she acts as agent.
Such is the devotion of this intrepid world traveller, she has visited China
thirteen times; on four seasonal occasions, solely to visit the Giant Panda
Reserve at Wolong, resulting in the publication of ‘Pandas’, her
best-selling 1998 book.
Confidence and serenity, rather than arrogance and self-satisfaction are
qualities we may dream of, should we reach a peak of professional
achievement. Characteristically, when Heather Angel reaches a creative peak
new challenges hove into view.
A good example is in ‘Natural Visions’, her latest book. When her publisher
sewed the seeds of an idea in her mind for a millennium book, the page
design called for big, bold images. In one chapter, ‘Visualising the Image’,
she wanted to include creative interpretations of nature that had not
occurred by accident.
Using Adobe Photoshop, she used some of the more subtle tools to help extend
her artistic vision beyond the original image. Then, typical of her search
for new peaks, using paper she had found in Botswana made from elephant’s
dung, she took it into her darkroom and, using Polaroid film, made an
image-transfer print of an enchanting African scene. Beat that!