Instead of observing wild animals for themselves, many humans today see them via the recordings of a small group of professionals whose job it is to capture them on film. Over the last fifty years, the equipment has become quieter and more mobile and the techniques have been honed to the point where we can watch, for example, orcas catch and devour a humpback whale calf in a remote sea through rock-steady, ultra-high-definition recordings captured from above, on and below the water’s surface.
No films of this sort are more celebrated than those produced by the Bristol-based BBC Natural History Unit. John Aitchison is one of this band. The images he’s recorded have helped shape how we imagine the wild. His magical book chronicles some of the missions he’s been on and documents some of the moral and personal conflicts involved.
Each chapter charts a different filming trip, many to the freezing poles. Aitchison concentrates in particular on his repeated attempts to film polar bears in the Arctic. But the book adds up to more than the sum of a few adventurous tales. The work involved in finding the animals is