With Words And Images, A Couple Brings the Wild To The World

Eleven years ago an architect and a lawyer set off from Johannesburg, heading for the Kalahari.

Though their journey is by no means complete, they have left the corporate world far behind in the dust of their vehicle, and are now known for their portraits of the wild areas of southern Africa, detailed on the glossy pages of several books and numerous international magazines.

Currently living in Hoedspruit, Adrian Bailey and his wife Robyn Keene-Young have documented private moments in the life of many African animals, photographed breathtaking bushscapes and brought the spirit of the wilderness into urban homes.

With Adrian trading in a drawing board for a camera, and Robyn dropping the legal sword to pick up the journalistic pen, they have collaborated on four coffee table books - Okavango, Wild Botswana, Wild Kruger and Dwellers in Eden.

Okavango - A Journey is due out in May, and the couple are also working on a new book called Safari, which will focus on Africa's different ecosystems. This book stems from a series being run in Getaway magazine. Both Adrian and Robyn are associate editors of the South African travel magazine, and are contributors to international magazines like BBC Wildlife, National Geographic, Geo Germany and Natural History.

Adrian has won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001. His first major break in his new career in photography came with a photo of a lioness drowning a hyena, which won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and scooped the 50/50 Veldfocus competition.

The Veldfocus prize was a Landrover, and this was a major bonus for the couple, allowing them more freedom to carry on exploring the wilderness. Over the last decade, along with many stock shots of wildlife, Adrian has created photographic features on wild dogs, baboon, lions, buffalo and the translocation of animals from the Kruger National Park to its Mozambican neighbour, the Limpopo National Park.

To get truly intimate shots of his subjects, Adrian has had to set up camp in remote locations while habituating his subjects, with Robyn fulfilling the glamorous role of camera passer, elephant and lion spotter and snake wrangler on occasion.

From these mundane tasks, Robyn has created her own images of the African veld, using words instead of a long lens. Her recently published book "Backseat Safari" describes the trials and joys of a decade of life in places few people are privileged to visit, let alone live.

The struggle to keep film cool or the batteries of a digital camera charged whilst miles from civilisation pales into insignificance for Adrian when he compares it to the pleasure of being accepted as a natural part of the bush, with the animals carrying out business as usual around him.

While shooting a series on baboons, he habituated a troop to such an extent that he could follow all their daily activities on foot from within the troop. He recounts the tale of sitting only a couple of metres from a roan antelope drinking from a waterhole, the animal totally unconcerned by his human presence because the baboons were so offhand about him.

The series on buffalo also proved to be an unexpected source of contentment - both Adrian and Robyn describe how spending a lot of time with a herd of buffalo gave them a sense of serenity. "You feel part of the herd." Documenting the translocation of animals from Kruger into the Limpopo National Park gave Adrian and Robyn an immense appreciation for the Sanparks game capture team and the occasional dangers inherent in dealing with large wild animals.

Robyn describes the team as "slick" with a great "rapport", and marvels at how they have never become blasé despite translocating thousands of animals. But Adrian says that wild dogs are his favourite subjects - "Guaranteed action twice a day" and "the most fun you can ever have in the bush." Coupled with the thrill of the hunt, he loves the emotional side of the dogs - the nurturing shown to pups around the den and the care of injured members of the pack - "contrary to their bad reputation."

With the photographic industry turning to digital photography, Adrian says he now spends more time than he would like behind a computer, and longingly looks back to the couple's first year in the Kalahari when they spent all their time looking for photo opportunities with no clients to consider.

A few years ago, the townhouses that Adrian spent so many years at university learning to design started to hem the couple in, and they left their Midrand home for the wildlife estate of Raptor's View. Now they "wake up with a smile" with giraffes poking their head in the window and go to sleep listening to the call of jackals.

With more than 250,000km of travel in Africa behind them, Adrian and Robyn would like to see a bit more of the world, especially South America, Australia and eastern Europe.

Robyn likes to do travel writing, as she says it gives her the chance to be "opinionated" while Adrian likes the challenge of trying to capture images of some of the world's rarer animals. The four books containing some of Adrian's most compelling photos are on sale from kalahari.net and The Park Shops in Kruger.

By Melissa Wray
In Hoedspruit

Kruger National Park - South African Safari