On the 15th of October 2019, French wildlife photographer Jérémie Villet won the Rising Star Portfolio Award (Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition)

” We are just witnesses,” said the very emotional winner in the London National History Museum earlier this week.  The Circular sat down with Jérémie in 2018 to know more about his work.

This French wildlife photographer is nothing you have seen before; he spends up to one quarter of the year sleeping outdoors and taking pictures. Jérémie Villet is 26 years old; he grew up on a farm in the countryside near Paris, France, and his childhood dream had been to climb mountains and see a wild Alpine ibex. Each year, he went with his family skiing in the French Alps. His first-ever recognized photograph was taken in 2013 when he went to the Alps specifically to look for ibex. He set off on the four-hour climb in good time to catch the sunset, but a thick fog meant it took him several more hours to reach the summit. ‘When I emerged from the clouds,’ says Jérémie, ‘it was like entering a new world.’ But the real surprise was to see below him a male ibex. ‘It was more than I’d hoped for’, says Jérémie. ‘Just me and the ibex and the beauty of the Alpine scene.’

Clear eyes and a very French moustache, tousled fair hair and a bright smiled, we had the chance to meet with Jérémie Villet, to learn more about his dreamlike photography and his career as an upcoming wildlife photographer.

Auto Portrait by Jérémie Villet
  • Why and how does one work as a wildlife photographer? 

Ah! Well, one could say it not a real full-time job anymore, there is no “training course or formation” per se to become a wildlife photographer. 

On my part, I’ve been surrounded by nature my whole life, my family owns a farm in the middle of nowhere, and I’ve always been surrounded by animals, with bellowing deers (the mating call of the stag) by my window every fall and I started going out in the forest with my brother, even sleeping outside, then on my own. And I really wanted other people to experience that as well, the pureness of nature and wildlife photography was the answer for me.  I took the old camera we had at home and I was off. I decided to start sharing my work, first of all through forums, dedicated to wildlife photography. I’ve trained myself through these platforms, being taught about new settings. An I was hooked, I was dreaming of a career in photography back then. 

Of course, I was rapidly told that working in photography is very tough, especially making a living out of it. So, I decided to find a course that would allow me to still be linked to photography, which I think was the right call. It gives you structure, and you can still do photography on the side. So that when an opportunity for you to work as a photographer would present itself, without taking any risks because you still have a job. 

I studied literature and politics, and it happens that at the same time I graduated from college, one of my photographs won a prize at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2013 in the Animals in their Environment category. 

Which led me to be a full-time photographer for a year without financial risks and paved the way for my actual career. I guess that’s how I became a professional wildlife photographer.

  • You have been to quite a lot of places around the world so how do you choose a destination? Is it because of a particular species you want to photograph? 

Well, it doesn’t really work like that. For example, I recently saw an Instagram post of white foxes in a very remote area of Norway. I have been to there in a previous expedition and it’s very unusual that the foxes chose this place for the mating season. I’ve decided to go and see them for myself; I leave in three weeks. This is one of the ways I end up photographing animals, but I also have dream destinations or animals I have also wanted to shoot and in these cases, I speak with scientists, biologists, fellow photographers and do my research before going out there. I have strong feelings about nature and I think to be fully appreciated it and take good pictures, one has to live in nature; I was lucky enough to be born surrounded by it. 

  • But you always leave for an expedition on your own?

Yes, I always go on my own, though it is still an expedition because as you know I take pictures of the wildlife mostly in winter times; meaning I have a to prepare physically. Skiing, camping, in the blizzard! And I did it when I was a child, so I’ve learnt the principles of living in nature at a young age, I guess. 

  • Let’s talk about winter, why this passion for the white landscapes? 

Well, snow somehow works as a filter, as an anchor in reality. Because I never touch-up my photographs, it’s not out of proud or being posh or something, but I prefer to work on my settings beforehand and simply enjoy the overwhelming satisfaction of a good shot; but let’s be real it makes my job much harder.

And when you are into wildlife photography, you feel lots of things, alone in the wilderness, you hear things, you see things and when you finally take that instant shot, obviously you are not able to convey all of these feelings. When I am in nature, I feel this sensation of greatness, of purity, aestheticism, graphism. Surrounded by snow, it’s like I am in a dream. It sorts of echoes my childhood dream of sleeping in the forest … 

  • But these conditions must be very physical as well? 

Oh yes, very much so, I lose weight, I am always hungry, but it’s good in a weird way, these urges transcribe in my photographs what I am living and actually what my subjects live. It even has an impact on the frame of my pictures; in a blizzard, I will want my audience to see the landscape so that they too, can imagine what it is like to be out there. And then the beauty of the surroundings will merge with the physical reality of the shooting location.

One might think after meeting Jérémie that more than being a wildlife photographer, he is undoubtedly a poet. 

The interview has been translated from French.

His first photo book “Neige” is up for pre-order !

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