The ‘most important’ big cat photos

By Pamela Holdstock, Tara Hornblower

Photographer Pamela Holdstock spent most of her life obsessed with big cats and the ‘myth’ of the leopard

Pamela Holdstock has spent her entire life obsessed with big cats. Growing up, her two late parents thought she was crazy.

“They thought I was going to take my own life with photography if I didn’t go back to the zoo,” says Holdstock, who on Tuesday was named the Shooting Star at the International Wildlife Photography Awards in London.

Her fascination with the big cats took Holdstock on an epic journey, which inspired her pictures.

The photographer visited over 20 countries during her career, setting up tent at night in isolated spots to avoid spotting wildlife that was dangerous.

“When I was starting out, I saw a lot of similarities between nature photography and fashion photography, although it turned out that fashion photography was not what I actually wanted to be doing,” she explains.

But Holdstock was initially inspired by an elderly woman in her early 60s, who always dressed in custom-made leopard furs.

“This woman would walk around the forest on her hands and knees, staying under the leaves, and only when the presence of the leopard threatened her did she take off her furs,” says Holdstock.

“This first-hand experience [inspired her]. I found it very moving. She took on an image of these animals, and even though these weren’t actually leopards, I understood that’s how these animals see themselves. I wanted to draw on that to photograph the big cats.”

From South Africa to safari parks in Costa Rica, Laos to South Sudan, Holdstock made her mark on this diverse continent of wild cats.

The former security guard started her career in a field office of South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs, after helping anti-apartheid protests. But despite having a top ranking, she had been told by her boss that she had “gone off the tracks”.

“I remember saying ‘you can’t do that to me. I will always go off the track’. I found myself filming and then taking pictures,” she recalls.

“That’s a kind of break away from corporate life. That’s what I do now.”

Photographing wildlife and working with big cats has changed her life.

“To me it’s like a huge adventure. I’m so unbelievably happy to get to do this and to share this experience with people,” she says.

Photos by Pamela Holdstock

“To see what a threat to humanity is, when you see these animals roaming around in the wild. When they are outside the territory of the humans, when we approach them, when we catch them, it’s like zoos for them. The rest of the world is waiting for that encounter.

“They’re our ancestors. That’s what makes it so important to protect them.

“Most animals are intelligent. They aren’t evil. They’re the best things that ever happened to our planet.”

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