Drew Gardner drove from London to continental Europe, along the Northern European coastline, and all the way up through Sweden to shoot a naked girl riding on an Elk. Why you might ask?
“To tell the story, I’ve got to rewind a few years,” says Drew. “About five or six years ago, I started photographing women and wild animals in the forest. At first it was just meant as a showcase for my lighting capabilities, but soon it grew into something else. The beauty of nature fascinated me and I wanted to create something that made you stop and think about that for a second. The women in the pictures were also important, as I wanted to show how we all are a part of that environment.”
Where are the images shot? They forests look very different.
“The elephant was shot in Thailand, the pigs in Poland, the fox in the UK, the hybrid wolf in Maine, USA, and etcetera. I wanted this to be an international series, plus I wanted it be a real adventure. Photography is a license to have great fun. Let’s not forget that.”
What about the elk? How did you end up in the forests in Northern Sweden?
“I was recently asked to do showcase the series at an exhibition at the Pingyao Photography Festival in China. I immediately loved the idea and decided to complete the series with three more images, so that I would have something new to show at the festival.
“Earlier this year I shot a fox and a dear. Both shots went very well, but for the finale I wanted a majestic, truly spectacular animal. I did some research and almost by accident I stumbled across this guy in Umeå, Sweden, who trains elks. He ensured that you could even sit on the elk, and the minute I heard that, I just knew I’d found my subject.”
It goes without saying that all sorts of complications can arise on a shoot such as this. But what would you say were the greatest challenges?
“Well, there were two things I grossly miscalculated. First of all, I didn’t realize how far it is to Northern Sweden. It’s far. It’s really, really far…
“Secondly, I kind of underestimated the elk. It’s an amazing, gangly animal with a very peculiar behavior. It behaves almost like a cat – like a neurotic cat trapped in a giant elk body. Getting it to not only stand where I wanted to, but also do what I wanted it to do turned out to be absolutely impossible.
“The initial plan was to use a four light setup, but we had to scrap that idea. The elk kept moving out of the influence of at least one of the lights, and everything was a mess. So, we moved to another part of the woods where we got some nice ambient back light to work with, and I had my assistant holding a single Pro-B4 with a single Pro-B Head Plus and an RFi softbox in his hands. Now, we had a much more mobile, flexible setup.
“But now the elk just stood there! It looked like it was dead! I got some ok pictures, but nothing that made my heart stop. By now I was getting worried that the entire day would end up a failure. Eventually, the elk trainer said: “That’s it! We’ve run out of food. Time to go!” The second after that, the elk got restless and started parading forward, the girl froze in terror, and I pushed the camera release. Bam! I had the shot! It was literally the very last frame of the day, and it was perfect.”
More images from the series can be found below.
Drew has also written about the shoot on his blog. The title of the story is The Elk or Moose Depending on Where You Live. Check it out.