Focus on Tui De Roy – a brief biography
Tui has lived in the Galapagos Islands since she was two years old. It was then that her artist parents decided to leave their native Belgium to become pioneers in the little known archipelago in 1955. Home taught with a keen interest in nature, she became the first naturalist guide when tourism began to reach the islands in 1969. However, she soon turned to wildlife photography and writing as her lifelong profession.
Taking up residency in New Zealand in 1992, Tui travelled the world for 20 years, producing a series of large format books. The topics covered have been as varied as the world’s albatrosses and penguins, a natural history of the Andes, and an exploration of New Zealand’s ecosystems. After photographing on all seven continents, Tui has been drawn back to photographing almost full time in Galapagos, while still maintaining her residence in New Zealand. She now dedicates herself to re-photographing the wonders of these islands with a new eye, and spreading the word about their fragility and need for protection. We’ve created a new gallery of Tui’s work, both in the Galapagos and across the world, including highlights from across the years. Tui’s work has been published in over 40 countries, and she has authored 20 natural history books illustrated with her images. You will also find a gallery of Tui’s work on our print site, if you’d like to order a print or gift featuring one of Tui’s images.
Interview and Q&A with Tui
In the informal interview below, Tui talks us through some of her favourite images and styles of photography. She also answers questions about her images, her career and her passionate belief in conservation. We asked Tui to select some of her favourite images and firstly she chose a set of marine iguana photos, which take a different angle on this subject. In Tui’s words “these icons of Galapagos have been photographed ten million times, so I have tried to depict them from different angles. Above all, I seek to capture their special features and unique lifestyle, throwing a fresh light on a well-known subject.”
A feeling of intimacy
Tui tells us about her approach to animal photography: “I look to create photos which have a feeling of intimacy. By this I mean photos that show an animal quietly going about its own business, as if I wasn’t there, usually showing something gentle.”
“These largest of all cormorants are true characters. Not only are they extremely powerful divers restricted to a tiny segment of the Galapagos archipelago (the shores of Fernandina and western Isabela Islands, bathed by the cold Cromwell Current upwelling), they can demonstrate some very eclectic personal tastes. While most of them build their low nests entirely of seaweed, which males present to their mates when they return from fishing, some actually choose more interesting adornments. They may select almost exclusively starfish, sea fans, or as in this case, pencil-spined sea urchins. I spent several days watching this individual gradually build up his collection of urchins which he brought back with a clear attitude of self-importance, only to drop his ‘gift’ unceremoniously next to the female on the nest (luckily, they had already constructed a foundation of soft seaweed to cushion the eggs). Watching this pair reinforced my notion that we are all individuals — even wild creatures — with our own tastes and foibles.”
A sense of mystery
Another aim that is important to Tui in her recent photography is an elusive, mysterious element: “I like to capture a sense of mystery, of far-away places where I’m only just peaking over the edge of another world.”
“Giant tortoises are the iconic species of Galapagos, and as such have been photographed literally from all angles. When the day fades away from their volcano world and moonlight glints off their motionless carapaces, the timelessness of their existence becomes most poignant. Resting in sun-warmed mud pools, dew dribbling down their polished shells, the only sound is of loud gurgles and escaping bubbles from gases in their digestive tracts. To capture the scene I waited for the full moon to drop toward the west, allowing a few stars to glint in the sky, and used a 30 seconds time exposure to soften the wisps of steam rising from nearby fumaroles. That moment, for me, represented all the magic of Galapagos at its best.”
Tui De Roy on photographing animals in their environment
“In the Galapagos I have perfected the concept of animals in their landscape, which is much more difficult to achieve than meets the eye. This is because not only must the animal be well represented, but the landscape iconic, and the light outstanding — a rare combination!”
Tui De Roy tells us what makes her tick, as a photographer, writer and conservationist
What was your initial route into nature photography?
“As a child growing up in the Galapagos Islands I was fascinated with the intimate daily lives of the animals all around me. Early on I thought I would become a biologist, but then I realised my inclination was more that of a naturalist. I wanted to be an observer who tallies a wide variety of small facts into a broad understanding of nature, natural processes and animal behaviour. By the time I was 15 I had decided photography was my way of compiling an intimate record of how animals fit into their environment. I haven’t stopped since.”
Which wildlife subjects inspire you most, and why?
“I took my first published photographs in Galapagos when I was 15. Since then my camera has taken me to some of the remotest corners of all seven continents, but in the last five years I’ve returned full circle to Galapagos. It is still the most fantastic wildlife place on earth, bar none. Incredibly, every other week I still see and capture behaviours and events I had never seen before — such is the richness of this near-pristine archipelago. ”
Many of your images have a strong behavioural and narrative element. Is it important that your images convey a story?
“Throughout my career I have always considered myself a naturalist first, and photographer/author second. Invariably, my desire is to convey a story through the life of the animal I am photographing. I strive to illustrate to the best of my abilities what the world feels and looks like from the perspective of the animal. My wish is to depict his or her trials and travails, triumphs and tragedies. I want to show the risks it takes and the abilities it relies on, and above all, to depict its freedom.”
To see a sample of Tui’s story-telling, check out her Tuna Herders story about the tuna-hunting sealions of the Galapagos.
Why do you have such a fascination for albatrosses?
“What I love most about the natural world is the freedom, balance and mystery that exists there, unsullied by man. Albatrosses sail over storm-lashed oceans on giant wings, where even our imagination has trouble venturing. Yet they are affected by what we do, thousands of miles away. To see and photograph them at sea, to visit their remotest nesting islands, is to venture into another world. This is a world freer, cleaner and more peaceful than ours, one that is full of beauty. If I can bring even one ion of that feeling home in my photos to share with others, I can die happy.”
You have spent many years working in the Galapagos and have a fantastic image collection from the archipelago. How has the Galapagos changed over this period?
“In many ways the Galapagos Islands have not changed at all over the past 50 years that I have been photographing here. At least 95% of their original biodiversity is still present and the ecosystem is still near-intact – stressed, but not broken. The islands now serve as an example to the world of something worth saving. Some islands and certain species are better off now than they were 50 years ago. This is because introduced species have been exterminated and native species bred back from the brink of extinction. Yet the pressures are mounting to the point that their ultimate loss may be impossible to avert. Why? Because it was biological isolation that made this ecosystem what it is. However, this isolation was irreversibly breached from the moment the first humans set foot on these lava shores. Because of human contact, ever smaller, more insidious organisms (seeds, insects, pathogens) continue to arrive hard and fast. These are what pose the greatest threat to the future of Galapagos.”
Is there an elusive subject that you’ve always wanted to photograph?
“Yes, a diving booby entering the water at 100 mph, seen from below water, close-up. From what I’ve seen, and from the imperfect photos I’ve taken, the bird hits the water with its eyes open. It then dives through a tube of air, from which it emerges only after slowing down underwater. Like many other photographers, I have photos of boobies underwater, snatching dead fish that fishermen discarded. But that’s a very different sort of dive, when the birds aren’t actually chasing any fast-moving prey.”
You are a prolific author. Can you tell us more about your book projects and recent publications?
“Producing books is like putting your best work in a museum, extremely gratifying because you can stand back and admire your own results. You can also use it as a vehicle to share with others what you feel strongly about. Since the publication of my very first book (Galapagos, Islands Lost in Time, 1980) I have gradually evolved from simply handing over raw materials to the publisher (transparencies and manuscript) to becoming more and more involved in every step of the production. This includes many aspects of design, pre-press, and text editing. I credit this to a very close relationship I’ve developed with my New Zealand publisher, Bateman Books, and especially with my editor, Tracey Borgfeldt. I call this process ‘building a book’ and it gives me great satisfaction, as the product always evolves as we go. More recently, together with my partners Mark Jones and Julie Cornthwaite, we are producing new books completely on our own. This involves concept, photos, text, design, pre-press, and printing. Anything from guide books to children’s books. And they are proving very successful.”
Can you tell us how your images have contributed to important conservation work?
“In no case is the motto ‘an image is worth a thousand words’ more real than in conservation circles. I have a very close relationship with the Galapagos National Park Directorate. I am constantly providing them with free photos of anything from ‘evocative’ and ‘pristine’ to hands-on management. This is a strong part of my work, as it reinforces the tremendous work that is being done to protect these islands. Beyond Galapagos, my book ‘Albatross: Their World, Their Ways’ has made a major contribution to the world’s understanding of these little-known birds. It has also helped support international conservation measures being adopted on the high seas. Albatrosses represent one of the most endangered multi-species familes of birds worldwide!”
Are there any major forthcoming projects that you’d like to tell us about?
“I’m putting the finishing touches to my next book which will be released next year, by Princeton University Press in North America and Bloomsbury in the rest of the world. A Lifetime in Galapagos will be an anthology of my 50 years of Galapagos photography, with personal accounts accompanying brief photo-stories.”
Check out the Tui De Roy gallery on our print site
If you would like to order a print or gift featuring one of Tui’s images, you can find a great selection on our print site.