Words - 20th Century Greats - Professor Heather Angel


20th Century Greats series (2000)

Professor Heather Angel (1941- )

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 shadow.

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!

Start counting
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) in 1998.

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.

Natural Visions
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.

Personal dedication
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!

© Copyright John Chillingworth