Photographic duo in their element


Yogi Freund and Stella Chiu-Freud
Image: Peter Ward

The Lizard Island crew has had the pleasure of welcoming an acclaimed photographer and producer duo to the team this week.
Juergen "Yogi" Freund and wife/producer of their company Freund Factory, Stella Chiu-Freund, have spent the past week on Lizard Island taking some amazing photos.

The freelance duo is here to capture the scientists' work, their specimens and any other amazing creatures they can find around this incredible habitat.

The pair has travelled to Lizard Island many times but this is their first trip staying at the Research Station.

"We love it here. We love the mangroves and the reef. We're in our element. Our only frustration is we never feel we have enough time here. It's photographically too rich," Stella said.
 

They have been taking photographs of all stages of the research process: the collection, processing, microscopic work and capturing the scientists with their animals.

The couple met when Yogi was taking photographs as a volunteer for the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) in Stella's home country, the Philippines. Stella was producing a documentary at the time and wanted to buy one of his photographs. They were married in 2000 and immigrated to Cairns in 2003.

"I'm Australian now, he's still German but this is home for us," Stella said.

Yogi said that they were motivated to move to Cairns as there are so many national parks and beautiful spots around the city.

"It's like having a photo studio outside your door stop," he said.

Originally from Dortmund, Germany, Yogi has been a photographer for over 20 years, beginning as an industrial photographer and then, after being inspired by greater things, moving onto wildlife photography.

"It is always nature that inspires me," Yogi said.

The couple's work has a strong nature conservation theme as they capture the delicate images of animals in their habitats. They say that environmental conservation is a big part of their work; that shooting beautiful images can create awareness. Yogi has a strong relationship with the WWF and has been contributing to its image library for 20 years.

"You have to be inclined to help organisations," Yogi said.

"I started donating images to WWF and then after a while they asked me to shoot for them and the relationship slowly developed," he said.

Due to Yogi's work, he has even been persona non grata on an island in the Philippines in the past. In 1998, Yogi took some very moving photos of a whale shark being hunted and slaughtered by Pamilacan Island fishermen. After Yogi had left the island the new president outlawed hunting whale sharks. The locals believed this to be Yogi's doing, causing outrage and controversy.

"It's all about education. Once they agreed to stop hunting it was fine and now they're tour operators. Good things happen eventually but it's a long process," Stella said.

Yogi has won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition from the Natural History Museum in London more than once and, although he can be coy about his amazing achievements, Stella tells me that he has won eight prizes in different categories of that competition.

Stella's role is to organise the operational side of Yogi's work and make all the arrangements.

"I do all the behind the scenes preparation. He concentrates on the photography and I concentrate on the operational side of things. When I produced documentaries I used to handle 10 people; now I handle one and he's more difficult than 10 people," Stella laughs.

"We're story bound: when organisations require a photographer - we're there. Sometimes we stay for two to three months and travel around in our van Carla - we even sleep in Carla. Since we're freelance, we can choose to stay or choose to leave. That way we can cover so much of Australia whether by land, sea or air," she says.

The team has just finished shooting a "snake story" for a 30-page feature in a German magazine and tells me they never feel in danger when shooting wildlife stories, even if the subject is a snake, shark or spider.

"Recently we were driving a long, long way in the outback and we had to pull over at a rest area. One of the people there said ‘don't sit where the benches are, there are redback spiders' and he was so freaked out but we said ‘quick, get the camera'. For things that people normally say ‘eww' about, we say ‘wow!' Stella laughs.

For more information on Yogi and Stella's company, go to www.jurgenfreund.com