My name is George Wheelhouse, and I’m a fine art nature photographer, from Bedfordshire, UK. I recently discovered People Need Nature, and it really resonated with me.
During my mid-twenties I’d been working as a software developer for a couple of years, but it’s fair to say I wasn’t very happy with my work/life balance. I was struggling with day-to-day stress, both in and out of work, and had no real outlet for my own interests. The breakthrough came on a family holiday in 2007. I found myself in Arizona, staring with awe, at the Grand Canyon. I’ll never forget that feeling. It was so vast a sight, and so ancient a structure, it seemed to put the modern world into perspective. Billions of years in the making, and it was right there in front of me, just as it has looked to everyone who’s ever seen it – through the relatively brief period of human history. I was struck by the visual demonstration that this landscape, and these processes were going on for literally ages before humanity, and will continue to do so for many millions of years after we’re gone. The sheer insignificance of everything humans have done before or since, and of the things I was concerned about in my life, were put totally into perspective.
When we got home, it was back to real life, but I didn’t want to slip back into my old thinking habits. I started going running again, around the large Cassiobury Park in Watford. It was a welcome oasis of greenery in otherwise grey surroundings. There were some huge trees there, and some lovely old oaks. The branches were full of life in spring, and birdsong was all around. I was particularly taken by the herons which would occasionally drop in to stalk the fish in the stream. It seemed like the more I looked, the more I found. I decided that I wasn’t going to spend my lunchtimes indoors if I could help it, and I found some walking routes to fill my lunch hour – walking across a small nature reserve, and watching the rabbits, fish, herons, ducks, and geese, that called it home.
As the memories of the Grand Canyon began to fade, I was still left with the feeling I had there, along with some ropey photos I’d snapped on an early compact digital camera. It would have been great to come back with some photos for the wall of that inspiring view. I used to draw a lot when I was younger, and though out-of-practice after a few years distracted by university and a new career, I still had that instinct nagging at me to do something creative with my time.
I started to think that maybe photography could be a good way of satisfying my creative drive, whilst giving me a good excuse to spend time with nature. After giving it some thought for several months, I eventually bought a second-hand dSLR, and I read some good starter books on photography. It was a steep learning curve, but I loved spending the time out with my camera, and it dawned on me that I’d finally found something positive and relaxing to put my energy into. As I wandered around the woods looking for a view to snap, the rest of the world didn’t matter. I’d found my own little escape from it all, even if it was only for a few hours a week. Later that year, I moved back to the area I’d grown up in, where the woods and fields are only 5 minutes away. We’d managed to buy our own house, and I was determined that this would be a fresh start, and I was going to get out and live my life. Nearby to us now is Woburn Deer Park, and I’ve been out to see the deer there in all seasons and all weather since I first discovered it. There’s a wealth of nature down there as well as the deer, and it’s great to have a local patch to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
The positive effect that time amongst nature has on those suffering from stress, anxiety, or depression is well established, and I’ve certainly benefited from it.
In the last few years my photography has really snowballed. It’s given me the excuse to get out and spend time in local parks, wildlife reserves, and hotspots up-and-down the country. I see things, and spend days in places I would otherwise never even know existed. Further afield, nature photography has lead me to watching bears in Finland and Canada, looking down on glaciers in Iceland, and hiking in the beautiful forests of Northern Sweden. Lastly, it’s given me the confidence to put my photos out there online and say; “These are mine, I did this, this is me” – something I never thought I’d do, as a natural introvert.
There are some great charities in the UK, doing good work encouraging people to consider the environment and the wildlife around them, and helping to remind the public how much it needs our help right now. But People Need Nature takes a subtly different angle; Rather than encouraging nature for nature’s sake, maybe it’s time to understand nature for humanity’s sake too. After all, when we’re gone the earth and its diversity of nature will recover in the planetary blink of an eye. The truth is, we need nature more than ever right now, and it’s time we started to acknowledge that.