Marina Cano: “I would love to feel what the animals feel.”

The Spanish photographer on soulfulness, endangered animals, and phototherapy
By Graeme Green
Marina Cano is a wildlife photographer who’s been photographing animals in her homeland Spain for 25 years and in Africa for a decade. Her work appears, among other places, on the front covers of National Geographic. Her latest book is called Wild Soul.

You’ve said you feel your photos capture the souls of animals. What’s the difference between a photo that captures the soul and a standard wildlife photo?

I’m not photographing documents. I’m photographing feelings. When I see families together, taking care of each other and taking care of babies, they’re the ones who bring the beauty and the love. That is what they’re showing us: their soul. As we humans take care of our families, they do the same.

Is making an emotional connection important?

It has to come naturally. You can’t force something you don’t feel. For me, at the beginning, as a wildlife photographer, the only thing I was thinking was to get the picture. Nothing else. I remember clearly that there was a moment that I changed. The more time you spend with animals, the more you love them. Then those connections flow really easily.

Photo by Marina Cano

A lot of people rush around wildlife locations in Africa or elsewhere, capturing as many animals on the back of their camera or phone. Great photos require more time and care, don’t they?

Yes. There are all kind of people. Some travel to Africa just to say they’ve been there or take a selfie. But photographers are looking for special moments, and waiting and spending time with animals, even if we’re not taking pictures. There’s a connection between real photographers and the wildlife. It’s much more than achieving pictures.

Photo by Marina Cano

Are time and patience important?

It is about spending time. I never feel impatient because I’m enjoying every single second I spend in the wild with animals. Even if nothing is happening, I enjoy being there to witness the beauty of nature. For me, it’s something beyond words.

Should we all should slow down a bit, in photography and in life?

Absolutely. It would be perfect for everyone. Do you know what I call photography? For me, it is more like phototherapy. It means a real connection to Earth, to nature, to ourselves, feeling really grateful to be there and forgetting about problems and everything. It is like they disappear in nature.

Do you think animals have distinct personalities?

Absolutely. I take pictures in a wildlife park near where I live, Cabárceno… In that place, I recognize the members of families, how different they can be from each other. It’s like us, like humans. We have different personalities. So do animals.

I spent many times with elephants in this wildlife park. I’ve seen how they have fun, how they take care not just of their own babies but within the families. They worry about all the individuals. I saw an injured elephant and how they came over to take care of it. I feel they’re so much like humans.

This beautiful huge animal can be so tender, so gentle, and really emotional. They know how to have fun. The young ones are playful all the time. I love them.

Photo by Marina Cano

When we’ve spoken before, you said you sometimes feel like one of the animals.

Yes, or maybe that’s a desire, more than a feeling. I would love to be part of them. I’m really empathetic with families, with groups of animals, and sometimes I really, really would love to feel what they feel, to be on the other side. I’d love to just become one of them and have that wild spirit inside, or to be part of the family or be carried by a mother lion.

It would be amazing to be able to transform ourselves and be in their place. It would be amazing if everybody could do it. I’m sure the world would be a better place.

Photo by Marina Cano

Animals sometimes look like they have blissfully simple lives. On the other hand, many of them have to deal with the constant threat of being eaten. It’s a mixed bag, isn´t it?

Yes, it’s not an easy life. The wild can be sometimes amazing but so many times it can be really hard and they can be killed at any moment. But also, they can kill at any moment. It is the circle of nature and their reality.

When I witness moments of hunting between animals, I try to think of something else, like it’s not the end for one of them, but it’s a metamorphosis, as they become, for example a gnu or a warthog or whatever. When they are hunted by wild dogs or lions, they become a lion or wild dogs. It is not the end. It is a metamorphosis. This is how I explain to myself life or death.

Photo by Marina Cano

Many of the world’s animals, including elephants, also face serious threats to their existence from human activity: poaching, loss of habitat, human-wildlife conflict… Have you seen a decline in numbers since you started going to Africa?

My first trip to Africa was in 2010. Everywhere you go, whatever country, Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, South Africa… you see animals everywhere. But you read reports from organizations who are really counting the numbers.

It is terrible the situation they’re facing right now, especially elephants with the ivory trade. Currently, it’s estimated that around 55 elephants a day are being killed in Africa, which means one elephant is lost every 26 minutes. Around 15,000 to 20,000 elephants are killed annually by poachers. 10 years ago, I spoke about there being 800,000 elephants in Africa and right now the figures are about 300,000- 400,000. At this rate, there could be no more elephants in Africa in the next 20 years.

That would be so terrible. I think we can still make it. It’s not possible that we allow this to happen, so I trust that together we can do a lot. Every single person can really do a lot.

Photo by Marina Cano

I never understand why someone would pay for a tusk as an ornament at all, but especially when it requires an animal to be killed. The animals, when you see them out in nature, are as good as it gets.

Yes, I can’t really understand what’s in the mind of people who are involved in the trade, from the poachers to the last piece in the chain, the consumer who goes, with no thinking, to buy whatever ivory or whatever piece of an animal. I really can’t believe that nowadays, when everybody has access to information, that they can be so ignorant to not know where the ivory comes from and what’s happening to this beautiful animal that’s killed just for vanity. It is terrible. For me, there is no explanation.

As photographers, we have to tell people, beyond our work, our photography, what is going on. We can create awareness through our work. People see the beautiful pictures and then you tell them the hard reality. People are really moved by what is going on. That means they will take action and spread the word to others.

Marina Cano:

Follow her on Instagram: @marinacano.

Graeme Green is a photographer and journalist:

Listen to the Marina Cano NEW BIG 5 PODCAST here.

Please SHARE this interview.

NOTE: The best way to solve the crises facing the planet and its wildlife is by having open, honest, respectful conversations and hearing diverse voices from around the world. The New Big 5 project does not necessarily support or agree with every opinion or idea expressed by photographers, conservationists or organisations featured on the New Big 5 website. The many different wildlife charities, photographers, film-makers and conservationists we’ve collaborated with also do not necessarily support or agree with every idea or opinion expressed by other people or organisations on the website. It’s ok to disagree and debate. But we hope the opinions and ideas can inspire people, make people think, and be part of the conversation to help our planet and the animals that live on it.

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