Jersey-born photojournalist Mark Fox spoke to Tom Ogg about his work with conservation groups in the Amazon rainforest – and how everyone in Jersey can help to defeat the oil giants
THERE can surely be few more desirable locations on earth for a professional photographer to visit than the Amazon rainforest.
Just ask environmental photographer and photojournalist Mark Fox, who has spent the past five years living and working in Ecuador, and who regularly visits the South American forests as part of his work with international conservation groups.
‘I visit the Amazon rainforest at least once a month,’ says the Jersey-born 31-year-old, chatting from his home in the Ecuador capital of Quito.
‘It’s pretty amazing that I’m able to do this. I’m incredibly grateful to be in this position.’
The position in question didn’t come easily, however, with Mark working hard for years in order to land himself his dream job.
‘This kind of work is so sought after,’ he says. ‘If you just sit around and wait for a conservation group to approach you, it won’t happen, especially if you have no experience in doing the work they require. In order to get the job, you need to do personal projects, build a portfolio and then pitch yourself to conservation groups – and even then it’s a tough ride.
‘I knew I was good enough after seven years of being a professional photographer,’ he continues. ‘The problem was that I had no rainforest content.’
It was with this in mind that the ever-ambitious Mark Fox Photography founder moved to Ecuador in 2019, having first spent a year travelling the globe and finessing his photography skills.
‘I was on the ground and ready to go,’ he says. ‘It was a grind learning how to speak Spanish and then having to network in a foreign language and sell myself to Latino strangers. I would send hundreds of emails with a “Google translate” message and wait for one to stick.
‘After nine months, I struck gold when the director of an NGO [non-profit organisation] replied to a post of mine on social media. I was invited out to the Amazon for a trip – no pay, just expenses covered. I immediately accepted. I knew it would be an incredible opportunity to see an indigenous community and also a chance for me to build a portfolio of images, which I could then send to future clients.
‘It was a real “right place, right time” moment, although you need to put yourself into a position in which you can allow those moments to happen.’
Over the ensuing months, Mark visited the Amazon rainforest on several occasions, building up an impressive portfolio of images in the process, all of which eventually led to him receiving paid work.
‘I continued sending out emails and then, over a year later, I got offered a contract with the WWF [World Wide Fund for Nature], completely out of the blue.’
Today, Mark has several contracts with various organisations (‘all jungle-based’), with the largest scale project centring on the creation of a ‘biocorridor’, something which Mark has now been working on for over two years.
‘A biocorridor is when a corridor of land is preserved in order to allow wildlife to migrate from the Andean mountain range to the Amazon Rainforest, and vice versa,’ he explains. ‘Unfortunately I can’t be too specific with details about this. Not because I want to be “exclusive” but because, if I’m too vocal about it, the oil giants that are destroying the Amazon may find out what we’re doing and infiltrate our plans, and there wouldn’t be anything we could do to stop them. They are a powerful influence over the world right now.’
In addition to photographing the biocorridor project, Mark has also spent considerable time capturing remote tribes on camera, although – as he rightly points out – the term ‘tribe’ is considered something of an outdated expression.
‘It is a very common term in the developed world but, when we talk about “tribes” per say, we typically refer to them as “indigenous”,’ he says. ‘Each indigenous group has a nationality where they speak their own language and, to date, I have been fortunate to meet about seven different nationalities across Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, and I have visited dozens of communities within those nations’ territories. They have all been very welcoming, although it would be a different story if I were to turn up unannounced.
‘I’ve experienced some pretty epic stuff,’ he continues. ‘I would say the most memorable experience has probably been documenting multiple Ayahuasca ceremonies over two years and learning about shamanic medicine. It was pretty mind-blowing to discover that all modern-day medicine comes from the plants they use. For example, I know a diabetic shaman who eats one berry a day to regulate his insulin levels.’
Raised in St Clement, Mark attended Le Rocquier School and Hautlieu School, and describes his younger self as a ‘skater boy’.
‘I was into skating from an early age and my friends and I used to take photos all the time of different skating tricks,’ he says. ‘When it was time to select my GCSEs, Le Rocquier offered a photography course, which I decided to do. I then went on to study it for A-Levels and, when I reached university level, I thought: “Well, I guess I’m a photographer now”.
‘It was a surreal feeling back then, and it still is, because I don’t consider it a job at all. I enjoy it too much.’
After leaving school, Mark studied wildlife and nature photography at Falmouth University, and this further cemented his lifelong passion for conservationism.
‘When I was a boy, everyone’s dream was to become a footballer but, for me, I always wanted to be a zookeeper at Jersey Zoo,’ he laughs. ‘Gerald Durrell was very inspirational to me as a child. Fast forward to graduation day and I knew that [the Amazon rainforest] was where I wanted to end up, but I also knew I needed to devise a plan and do the legwork beforehand.’
To begin, Mark found work as a cameraman for ITV Channel, in addition to shadowing local photojournalist Gary Grimshaw.
‘I learned everything I could about telling a story through photography,’ he says. ‘It goes without saying that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance of Gary, who welcomed me with open arms and allowed me to become his assistant. We actually shot a wedding together in the summer of 2021, which was amazing.’
Among the other photographers whose work has provided inspiration for Mark over the years are Jimmy Nelson, who has documented indigenous people around the world, National Geographic photographer Charlie Hamilton James, Hungry-born wildlife photographer Bence Máté, and BBC Natural History filmmaker Doug Allan.
Asked to pick a favourite from his own extensive catalogue of photographs, Mark struggles to do so, describing himself as overly critical of his output.
‘I’m very happy with the work that I’m creating but my best work is yet to come,’ he says. ‘After three years of intensive networking and building a strong Amazon portfolio, as well as learning the customs of the indigenous peoples, I feel that I am now in a place where I can make a real difference through my photography in 2022.’
Asked what he has planned for the year ahead, Mark says he is currently visualising several different projects, with three in particular about which he is especially passionate.
‘I really want to highlight the impact that oil drilling has on the rainforest and show how the world’s oil giants are destroying local Amazonian villages. I’m also keen to document the lives of homeless Venezuelan migrants who flee their country in search of a better life. And I’m going to be tracking wild Andean Bears in the cloud forest and documenting their behaviour through “camera trapping” technology.’
On the subject of wildlife, it is safe to say that Mark has encountered more species over the last few years than his Durrell-loving younger self could ever have thought possible.
‘Oh, I’ve seen all sorts,’ he says. ‘I’ve had squirrel monkeys climb all over me. I’ve slept in a shack on stilts above 10ft black caimans [very large crocodiles]. I’ve been swimming with pink river dolphins. I’ve seen anacondas, capybara, coloured macaw parrots, howler monkeys, bullet ants, tarantulas – the list goes on.’
On a less happy note, Mark adds that the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rainforest poses a threat not only to the wildlife mentioned above, but also to the many indigenous communities who call it their home.
‘The Amazon rainforest is under serious threat and these communities are on the frontline fighting for their basic human rights on their own land. And why? Because of us westerners and our destructive habits. Unless we address this and change, I don’t see how the work of conservation groups will ever be complete.
‘Everyone in Jersey can make a change to avoid this destruction,’ he continues. ‘It might not seem it but the whole world is connected. Think about where our petrol comes from to fuel our traffic-jammed vehicles, or the minerals found in our phones to watch funny cat videos, or – and this is by far the biggest issue – our heavy meat consumption. You might think that the meat you eat is local, but look up how much soya the UK imports from South America to feed our “locally farmed” livestock – 3.2 trillion tonnes.
‘One of the most memorable quotes I’ve ever heard in my life came from a man who I met a few months ago and who is fighting for his rights in the rainforest. He said: “If we break a leg, we wear crutches and walk with a limp. Currently the world has a limp but with no crutches – and yet we continue to walk on, out of balance”.’
It seems likely, then, that Mark will be continuing to work in and around the Amazon rainforest for some years to come, although he says he will eventually return to Jersey.
‘Once I’m satisfied with my career, I’d like to come back and become a media teacher or a university lecturer. I think giving talks and guest lectures to people would be amazing, and I’d love to pass on my knowledge to budding artists who are itching to pursue their passion. If anybody reading this is a young creative and has a similar vision to my own, then get in touch. I’m not special for having achieved what I’ve done – I’m just a normal bloke who had a vision and went for it.
‘And I would give this advice to anyone: when you’ve failed and you’re about to jack it in – don’t. Continue on because perseverance will get you there.’
Returning to the subject of Jersey, Mark admits that, despite the incredible locations in which he has lived and worked in recent years, there are nevertheless times when he misses the Island on which he spent his formative years.
‘Having lived in a developing country for almost three years now, I’ve come to realise just how good we have it in Jersey,’ he says. ‘I absolutely love how secure Jersey is – not once in my life did I ever feel unsafe there. There are many first-world problems about which we complain but the security we enjoy in Jersey is something that Latin Americans long for. For them, life can be very dangerous and unpredictable. Look at the crisis in Venezuela, for example. All South American countries could be in the same situation in a heartbeat if they fall into the wrong hands of a President. That fear is embedded in society.
‘Of course, I miss the beautiful beaches in Jersey,’ he adds. ‘I’ve travelled the world and Jersey still holds the record for the most beautiful beaches in one place. I just wish people would be more open-minded and appreciative of what they have.’
*For more on Mark, visit @markfoxphoto on Instagram, or to contact him directly, email email@example.com