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UAE-based photographer Charlotte Simpson takes time off from her Hot Shots times to travel to the land of the Masai tribe in Kenya for some close encounters with the big cats and the great wildebeest migration


Silvia Radan

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Published: Sat 30 Jun 2012, 9:27 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 12:02 PM

Charlotte Simpson was waiting a whole afternoon for a lion to turn around and face her. When it finally did, she knew her patience was worthwhile as she captured his majestic look on her camera.

The Dubai-based photographer went to the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya several times in June, July and August last year, each time spending five or six days photographing the wildlife.

The result is her first photo exhibition in Abu Dhabi, which opened at Yas Viceroy hotel’s Light Box gallery last week as part of the Swiss Art Gate UAE’s Crossroads series, and under the patronage of Marlai Foundation for Arts.

“I always loved Africa. I used to travel there a lot and since I wanted to do something different from my usual work in Dubai, I decided on the African wildlife,” she explained. A decade ago, Charlotte Simpson returned to the Middle East — she lived in Bahrain in 1989 — and set up as a professional photographer in Dubai.

“I’m a third-generation photographer in my family. My father was a photographer and his father too,” said Charlotte.

“Of course, I learnt photography from my father, who had a studio in London. In those days he used manual cameras.”

Later on, British-born Charlotte moved to New Zeeland, where she pursued a career in advertising. Yet, the passion for photography was in her blood, so when she moved to Dubai 10 years ago, she established Hot Shots, a photography company, which won four awards within a year.

“With Hot Shots I do mostly interior and portraits photography,” mentioned Charlotte, who, in no time, became a hot shot herself.

“I work a lot with blue chip companies and celebrities, people like Gordon Ramsey, Santo Versace and Henrik Stenson.”

“I also do a lot of wedding — I was even flown to Saudi Arabia once to do a very VIP Arab wedding.”

In the summer of 2011, time had come for Charlotte for a new, refreshing direction in photography. Taking advantage of the hot, quiet summer months of the UAE, she began travelling to the land of the Masai tribe in Kenya, up to the Serengeti plateau, for some close encounters with the big cats and the great wildebeest migration.

“I chose the Masai Mara because I found it to be the most abundant in wildlife and ever-changing views and scenery. I had to make several trips in order to find different places to shoot and different times and occasions, like the season for new babies being born, or the wildebeests river crossing,” explained Charlotte.

The Crossing, part of the wildebeests’ Great Migration of the Serengeti region, extending from North Tanzania to South-West Kenya, was one of Charlotte’s highlights. About 1.2 million wildebeests, followed by hundreds of thousands zebras and other grazing animals beginning the Great Migration in May, in search of greener pastures. After an 800km journey, they reach the Kenyan border of the Serengeti, where they have to cross the crocodile-infested Mara river.

“I was following these two wildebeests during the river crossing, hoping that they will make it,” said Charlotte, showing the two animals captured in one of her best shots.

“It was quite a spectacle! The herds would slowly get near the river and then something scares one of them and they will all run up the riverbank again. As soon as one of them jumps in the water, though, all the others follow, and then is a mad race for survival, as the river is full of crocodiles and hypos.”

In her iconic photograph, the two wildebeest she was following were among those who made it to the other side.

At the end of her trips, Charlotte ended up printing 60 photographs of lions, zebras, elephants, cheetahs, but also nature shots and portraits of Masai people she encountered during her journey. Although she photographed everything in colour using a professional digital camera, she turned most of her images in sepia or black and white, for a stronger visual impact. Printed on mat paper and glass framed, Charlotte is exhibiting only half of her selected images, which are also on sale starting from $1,500 and up to $2,500.

The exhibition will continue until September 10.


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