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Nikon Owner Issue 20

The Brothers Collier by Gillian Greenwood

In Part I of The Brothers Collier, we glimpsed at the creative vision of Tim Collier, who has made photography his life's work. In Part II of this article, we examine the evocative work of Phil Collier, ornithologist and wildlife photographer.

Phil Collier the Constant Ornithologist

The Brothers Collier by Gillian Greenwood
The Brothers Collier by Gillian Greenwood

Gulls swarm in assembly and vanish as one, a tidal wave of movement and tumultuous clamour, sea and sky echoing their noisy exit. A solitary bird wings its way across the empty darkening sky without escort, temporarily lost from the flock, racing against the wind with reckless urgency.

From the albatross in the haunting morality tale of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Ancient Mariner1 to the Ibis, the sacred bird of Egyptian mythology, or the phoenix, the emblem of immortality and reborn hope, both land and sea-birds, their habitats and lives have been the subject of poetry, prose, scrutiny and wonder since man first looked up at the sky.

The Brothers Collier by Gillian Greenwood

Over the last fifteen years, Phil Collier, ornithologist and photographer, has produced and published a vast array and variety of wildlife work. Phil can seamlessly capture the wild sweep of a gannet's wings, the puzzled speculation of a red grouse as it ponders over its patch of moorland, the thoughtful introspection of an owl, the clever jugglings of a waxwing as it tosses a berry into its mouth with the agility of a conjuror, and each shot is a singular image, a 'decisive moment'. Yet these are not simply ornithological records. Phil's work encapsulates the real essence of the subject within its natural habitat, and one can sense that the creature and the environment are interdependent, symbiotic, in unison. The imagery of Phil's work is such that one can glimpse momentarily at the dynamics of nature, its ebbs and flows, its seasons and its mysteries.

Phil's photographic assignments have included a youth conservation tour to northern Italy, an ornithological survey in the Irish Sea in a 72-foot sailing ketch, the Scottish Open Golf programme at Gleneagles, and the opening of one of the RSPB's premier north of England reserves - Marshside. His work has been published in Bargoed, a Landscape in Waiting, the RSPB magazines Birds and Bird Life, in Bird Watching and Birdwatch, and he has been highly commended in the British Birds Photographer of the Year competition.

The Brothers Collier by Gillian GreenwoodThe Brothers Collier by Gillian GreenwoodThe Brothers Collier by Gillian Greenwood

Phil has been passionately interested in wildlife and birdwatching since he was a young boy. But it was the work of Laurie Campbell "The Wildlife Photographs of Laurie Campbell" that prompted his desire to take up wildlife photography in a semi-professional capacity. Campbell is still his favourite photographer. He explains why:

"Laurie's favourite haunts - Mull, the West Coast of Scotland, Speyside - are also my own. These were my favoured birding places long before picking up a camera. To quote from Laurie's first book - 'My aims are simple: to show subjects at ease in their natural environments and by doing so, to increase people's awareness of the countryside. If through my photographs, I can encourage them to share my belief that this is something worth preserving, and if I can also convey some of the excitement and wonder I myself have experienced, then I am satisfied'. This became my own mantra when I first picked up a camera in earnest and remains so to this day. If, when giving lectures to groups, I can make the audience believe that they are on Mull or Islay for an hour or so then I have succeeded."

Phil is primarily self-taught, having studied the basics of wildlife photography by personal research and reading, followed by a practical period of 'trial and error', coupled with support and assistance from his brother Tim who has been a full-time photographer all his life. (Nikon Owner Issue XIX: Tim Collier, The Poetry and The Passion.) From working with Tim on a number of creative projects, he gained practical photographic knowledge about the relationships between the light and the land, composition and form, how to draw the subject in, how to play with colours and a feel for abstract form and shape.

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