Intensity, immediate action, generosity and courage: an itinerary that is not really that of a spoiled child. Tony Crocetta is a passionate wildlife photographer who travels the world, and welcomes in his bush camp in Kenya, all those who aspire to contemplate the wild fauna, unfortunately in danger of extinction. A reality that has become unavoidable? Tony uses his best photos to show and raise awareness about biodiversity, and he has so much to say. Behind this sadly first-hand witness of environmental degradation, we may still hope. Because only our mobilization would stop nonsense and embrace more virtuous and equitable models. For the love of nature that brings so great joy !
A public housing 12-storey tower in Pantin, a suburb of Paris, in front of the largest cemetery in France. A non-exotic setting and yet, this is where Tony Crocetta will take his first steps to meet nature. “I was the oldest, from a modest family, of Italian origin.” With his brother and sister, he will grow up learning simple joys and love. “My father was a workman and could not afford to take us on vacation. So I learned to live with the little we had, opening myself to others and the environment.” His fondest memories date back to the 1970s, when he went out to play with his friends near the railroad. It was their playong field : two still unused lands in the cemeterey, surrounded by a palisade that they climbed in the face of the guardians. It contained habitats for a few trees, wild cats and field mice; a little paradise where they built wooden surface sheds. Tony also played the naturalist, observing the insects present in this biotope: “grasshoppers, beetles, praying mantises, butterflies and even chafer!” Until this day that will mark him forever. “I was hanging on the balcony and saw them arriving with their bulldozer. Did they at least realize all this sheltered life in this place? And they demolished everything to make place for graves.” He was then 14 years old, and for months, he remained inconsolable, having lost the only place where he could feed his visceral need of nature. Rare moments will follow and always lived intensely. As during a stay in the contryside where lying in a field, Tony will feel that his true place is in the nature.
As a teenager, he will turn to adventure books: Tarzan, the book of the Jungle, 20 thousand places under the sea, and TV shows, in black and white at first, then in color picture, which will open up the world to him. “Especially animal documentaries: “Les animaux du monde” presented by Marlyse de La Grange, and “Camera au poing” of Christian Zuber”, a filmmaker journalist whom he will meet later and who was one of the pioneers of the protection of the nature and conservation. At school, he is a curious child who turns to a technical profession, to make his livelihood quickly. “I had to repair elevators, so nothing really creative, and I did this job for 20 years because it provided funding to do all the rest.”
One day, a friend was waiting for him at the bottom of the building, and he had a camera around his neck. Intrigued, Tony asked him how it worked. “And when I picked it up, I looked through the viewfinder and I felt in love immediately! It was spring. There was a flowering tree a few meters away, and I was captivated to see it so beautiful inside.” Then he will break his moneybox to buy his first camera: “a Canon AE1 Shutter Speed Priority, with a 135 film that is loaded in the back.” At the time, all the settings were being done in manual mode and Tony Crocetta, then young man of 21, will learn to use it by instinct, because he was passionate about the technique. He will also learn to practice. His first subjects were flowers: orchids and crocus, which he looked for in gardens and exhibitions in Paris. “The opportunity for me to finally get out of the suburbs, because I was thirsty for aesthetics and beauty.” Then he will photograph the insects with a macro lens, but he craved for more variety and space. With his first pay cheque, he began to puts money aside for a future trip. “I was invited by Reunion friends, and it was my first meeting with the wild nature.” The next trip will be decisive, and everything changed from there. He went to Central Africa with his wife to meet the Pygmies, the little forest people. “A real adventure, with unpredictable trails in the heart of a primary forest, muddy mudflats and giant trees. I had lost 8 kilos but it was so extraordinary, so atypical and rewarding, while friends offered to go to Crete instead.”
The following year, he will go to Mali and Burkina Faso, then, in Togo and Benin. And there, quite by chance, while making pictures of ethnic groups and markets, he will find himself crossing a wildlife park with elephants, baboons and antelopes. He was 26 years old. “The guide had taken us apart and I had been more reckless than others, getting off the car to make my first pictures of elephants. It was enlightenment! In an instant, I had the vision of what I wanted to do the rest of my life: I had found the great alchemy combining my three passions: travelling, photography and wildlife viewing.” And that’s how Tony Crocetta will become a wildlife photographer.
The following year, Tony will go to watch the gorillas in the former Zaire, then to do his first safari in Tanzania. And he started working more and more like a professional. “I have always had a high level of requirement to get beautiful pictures, even if I could not afford to buy all the photo material. The curator of a Park is seized by his photographs and advised him to work for an agency. Here he is in the BIOS offices, and the Director is immediately seduced by his images of rare species from Indonesia, Malaysia, Africa and the Caribbean. “From now on, you will have to work with the latest-generation camera lenses and travel the world. Are you ready for that? And the contract I signed is what made me a globetrotter.
He will then acquire a more sophisticated and professional equipment, such as the 500 mm lens that cost 35,000 francs at the time, the price of a new car. “I cannot thank my wife enough for trusting me. I was finally autonomous with considerable freedom.” He will return to Central Africa, to deepen his exploration with hippopotamuses and the brightly-colored carmine bee-eaters. He will also bring back beautiful shots of lions’ scenes. These images were sold immediately and published at the BBC news. He will also head to Los Llanos park, the animal paradise of Venezuela, and make incredible photos of the anaconda, which will be exploited by the world specialist in the field. “I had the chance to work with him because I had seen some surprising things in the behavior of this reptile, and I went there 14 times in total.” From now on, giving more depth will be his signature, with striking, precise and aesthetics clichés that express a reality, the truth about unknown or little-known species. They will be published worldwide by leading magazines.
“At the age of 45, I was tired of climbing the stairs in the rough suburbs”, but the digital era made it difficult to pay a professional photographer. The complementary activity will be self-evident. “Some friends wanted me to teach them wildlife photography as part of a safari.” He will meet Simon who will be the guide, then the partner and today his friend. Melting Pot Safaris was created in 2006 in Kenya: a cozy bush camp and a lodge in the heart of the famous Masai Mara reserve. Guests are welcomed into a community, where animals, Masai guides and photographers live together. The most charismatic animals are also given a name, and the safari is lived in a simple and genuine way, without looking for the sensational. “They will take to necessary time to live a deep immersion” with beautiful landscapes, remarkable animals and scenes of wild life of lions, leopards, cheetahs, zebras, antelopes, gazelles or elephants. His dream is finally realized, and Tony will even build a tree house there, to find the corner of nature that he had been torn off when he was a child.
We cannot contemplate nature without wanting to protect it. Tony Crocetta will also publish several books of pictures, speaking as a witness and biodiversity advocate, to build awarness on the state of the planet, and especially the species decline and extinction. Hunting, poaching, pollution, overexploitation of natural resources, deforestation and excessive urbanism, that are the most ecologically devastating scourges that kill wildlife. He is also an active player and founding member of the Noe association, and he participates as the President of the Jury in several prestigious international photo festivals. In 2008, he has launched “Latitudes Animales”, a festival featuring the work of talented photographers that all committed to conserve nature biodiversity. Tony and Sylvie Crocetta also founded “Cheetah for ever”, an association that allows local guards to watch and protect the endangered Maasai Mara cheetahs’ babies.
Quite clearly red flags have gone up all over this issue and Tony remains clear-headed about the state of the environment and the fragile balance among living species, including that of human race. But yet he is one of those who do not give up. A man driven by his heart and his instincts, with a pathway that finally has something in common with the Claude Lelouch’s film: a journey of feelings and actions through forty years of a curious man’s life who has always been attentive to all opportunities and ready for all adventures, in order to reconcile man and wildlife. Hats off to the photographer !
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on October 20, 2018
Link to the website of Tony Crocetta
“It takes a lot of courage to live according to our true nature, because it is based on a decision to break with traditional models to return to the fundamentals of our species, namely our indestructible connection to the natural environment. Nature has the power not only to respond generously to all our needs, but also to make us happy. And this happens, no matter where we are, as long as we have still preserved a corner of nature where can flourish an ecosystem. For having spent my life observing animals, I am not very optimistic about the future of biodiversity, whether in France, Africa or the world. What a disaster for the planet! We show some commitment but there are very little concrete actions. Today, human race has become an invasive and harmful species, while we have the opportunity to do extraordinary things, if we can put a stop to runaway demographic growth and limit our over-consumption of natural resources. In my conferences, When I speak at children and youth conferences, I warn them that they are going to lose everything and that they must react now before having my age. Only their generation can decide to consume differently before settling into the routine of an adult life. Do not stick to models imposed from outside or pre-fabricated blueprints!
During my first trip to Central Africa, I went to the Gounda Saint-Floris National Park in the north of the country, and there was a picture of rhinoceros at the entrance. When I returned ten years later, in the early 1990s, the Park warden told me that the last rhinoceros had just been slaughtered: the Diceros Bicornis subspecies or black rhinoceros, which has 2 horns was nipped for all time. It had already disappeared from Zakouma National Park in Chad. Once again, I had been deprived of this biodiversity with which I feel connected. At present, the rhino horn traffic is responsible for a genocide on a global scale. There is also an extinction of wild dogs that disturbs the entire ecosystem. As a result, the overpopulated hyenas cause a significant mortality of young cheetahs, threatening the species with extinction. Another example .. A decree in Botwana has allowed to build road crossing the Kalahari game reserve, and this has turned upside down the great migration of blue wildebeest. Hundreds of thousands died because they could no longer access the water points. Such a hecatomb! And it decimates herds of wildlife across this country. Or, lions poisoned at the Masai Mara because the breeders return to the park to find pasture and graze the increasing number of cattle. In the end, the wildlife species have no more space and overlap in a more and more restricted and degraded territory. Safaris are therefore the lesser of two evils to prevent poaching and help for conservation. With the association “Cheetah for ever”, we have saved 11 baby cheetahs in one year. It’s not much but it’s better than nothing; and it is at this price that the inevitable disappearance of species on this earth can be reversed.
Today, I am taking pictures solely for this purpose, to raise awareness and bear witness. I’m preparing a beautiful book for next year, with the cooperation of the designer Marco Pettini, to reflect this loss of biodiversity in Africa. One of the things that is most unbearable to me is sport hunting, which decimates the little nature and biodiversity that we have left. We must mobilize citizens around the country to stop this cruel slaughter. We should federate photographers, mountain bikers, joggers, trekkers, walkers and leading figures from a variety of trades into a powerful lobby to assert our rights . We should ban immediately hunting on Sunday; then protect foxes because it is absolutely not a harmful species, and stop decimating water-rats with no reason. I truly cannot understand how such practices can exist. Finally, I have the impression that the Pantin cemetery syndrome has been an important part of my life. I do not feel like I belong to a species above the others, for example an ant, but at the same level; and its life has the same value as if a superior being from the Galaxy comes to crush me, like my foot on an ant-hill. In the Amazon, twenty thousand hectares of forest are burned each year to build constructions and animals have nowhere to go. Such a mess because there is a treasure there, with special biotopes and endemic species that live only in this specific place of the world. We decimate our precious heritage!
Yes, I am aware of the privilege of having seen all this natural wealth in my life. And in the same time, my only pictures cannot do anything. Besides, it is nature that is incredibly beautiful and that makes amazing pictures? Isn’t it? In fact, we are in true luxury when we experiment furtive moments of pure grace, like the osmosis that I could live with Romi, the sublime leopard, or Scarface, the present Lion King of the Masai Mara. And of course, in the relationship to others with warm, friendly and genuine exchanges. Because the only thing that remains in the end is love and caring for every relationship: with one another, our neighbors, our customers, all humanity, and creation as a whole. That’s where we find our purpose and reason for living.”
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on October 20, 2018
Link to the website of Tony Crocetta