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David Yarrow exhibition at Cambridge Sook this weekend

‘The Cure’. Picture: David Yarrow
‘The Cure’. Picture: David Yarrow

David Yarrow is one of the best-known photographers in the world, and his first show opens at the Sook showcase in The Grafton later this month.

It’ll be a rare opportunity to be able to see his instantly recognisable photography, with its emphasis on iconic wildlife, slightly surreal indigenous gatherings and unlikely road trips with wolves , up close. It is also the launch platform for In Focus, is an international journal focusing on photography and film with an emphasis on collaboration and philanthropy. The publication will release three issues per year, with the first volume featuring Yarrow’s recent Texas series, with stories accompanying the images that “seek to add context, giving readers an insider view of the creative process”.

“I’ve not exhibited in too many places outside London,” he admits. “Nothing actually – the market is much more in America and continental Europe, but it seems like a nice opportunity. I know Cambridge a little bit, and how beautiful it is.”

The exhibition – “a balance between work in the wild and staged work” – will showcase a remarkable career, which was launched in style when he took a photograph of Maradona clutching the World Cup he helped Argentina win in Mexico City in 1986. The photo was syndicated around the world.

David Yarrow’s iconic photograph of Diego Maradona winning the 1986 World Cup. Picture: David Yarrow
David Yarrow’s iconic photograph of Diego Maradona winning the 1986 World Cup. Picture: David Yarrow

However, David only became a full-time photographer in 2012 so, I ask him, how did he manage his scoop?

“You don’t get on the pitch at a World Cup final if you’re not a professional,” he chuckles, “but I was only 20 and doing a finance degree at the time.

“At 20 it’s very difficult to be a photographer – to be consistently good, you need emotional intelligence and you only get that as you get older.”

Finance came first for quite a while, and a successful career as a hedge fund manager.

“When I was in finance I had a team of people around the world. I started full-time in photography in 2012, after the financial crash [of 2008] – after the crash a lot of people in my world wanted to get out.”

Maybe some of the discipline of managing finances has endured – there are currently “40 or 50” places around the world exhibiting his work, which puts wildlife and conservation themes on a unique pedestal.

So does the conservation work – he has contributed time and more than $1m helping Tusk Trust, the UK non-profit which helps protect African wildlife including elephants – come first these days?

“I’m a photographer first and foremost,” he replies. “I’m not really a nature photographer specifically, for me it’s about whatever we feel will garner interest, and if I can give something back that’s going to be beneficial.”

The “we” is his business partners. He speaks of having to be a breadwinner and I ask how much his northern pragmatism has endured.

“I was always brought up to understand the importance of the work ethic,” he responds of life in the famous shipbuilding Yarrow family, “and the importance of the need to work. My roots are in Glasgow, and that’s a place where no one owes you anything.”

‘The Desert Army’. Picture: David Yarrow
‘The Desert Army’. Picture: David Yarrow

David Yarrow’s fine-art photography resonates with the power and intelligence of nature like no other oeuvre.

He uses what he has previously called an “immersive” technique involving wide-angle lenses. The resulting photographs are so intense they are almost surreal, I say.

“Surreal?” he laughs. “That’s good, as reality can be quite dull. But I’m not actually there – it’s too dangerous to be there. I use a hand-held camera release.”

Along with the wildlife are visual chronicles of indigenous people and remote landscapes – and very elegant women sitting next to wolves in cars. How has life been under lockdown?

“I’ve just come back from a month in East Africa and I go back in a week’s time.

“It’s a good place to be at the moment as they’ve had relatively little Covid and there’s just not that many people around. I’ve had quite a few shoots in the last six months. Overall, it’s not been too badly affected, though of course some places – America at the moment, and India, and Brazil – have been very badly affected. But I’ve been alright, so far.”

David Yarrow seems overdue for an invite from the BBC to front a series on photography in the wild – has he had the call yet?

“The BBC?” he says cheerily. “They can’t afford me.”

“We are very excited to be playing our part supporting the recovery of the high street collaborating with incredible artists like David Yarrow,” said Sook founder John Hoyle. “We believe that Sooks can activate spaces nationwide and allow places to thrive post-corona.”

The David Yarrow Exhibition is a two-day launch of the first edition of his photographic journal, In Focus, and takes place at the Sook retail space, Unit 31, The Grafton, on September 19 and 20.

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