By now we’ve all had time to absorb the ruling at the most recent CITES which saw efforts to give African elephants the highest available level of protection defeated, thus placing the future for one of the Earth’s most iconic creatures back in doubt. As such, the tonal approach one takes to books such as Remembering Elephants has switched from optimistic celebration to fearful documentation. The book, a Kickstarter-funded project by wildlife photographer Margot Raggett, opens with Attenborough’s famous quote expressing a fear that his grandchildren will only see elephants in a picture book. If this is to be the fate that awaits the creatures, then collections such as this need to be cherished.
The book ostensibly takes us on a journey of the life of an African elephant, from a remarkably moving quarter of ‘birth’ images, through first, faltering steps, into adolescence and adulthood, out from the herd (for males), and on into an old age that sadly too few actual members of the species make it to due to illegal ivory poaching.
Raggett’s call to the great and good of wildlife photography to form this collection has been met by some frankly remarkable examples of the art. Close-up studies of calves nestling with mothers, brutal action as males compete for mating rights, the social interactions between herds – the images move, enlighten and amuse in equal measure. A danger in such collections (especially ones with such a large number of contributors) is that the book would feel disjointed, but instead the framing narrative of a life’s journey holds it all together beautifully – even the choice of light (dawn accompanies the early shots, through bright day and on into night as the elephants age and the book draws to a close) works as well as any video documentary. Remembering Elephants is not just a curio for animal lovers, it’s a vital record for a species with an uncertain future.
This review was published in the December 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.