An image of a fox and a stencil of a fox on a street in North London.

Fox Meets Fox. Credit: Matthew Maran

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: when wildlife imitates art

On a bright April evening, photographer Matthew Maran caught sight of a red fox wending her way down a street in north London. He had a good feeling about where she was going.

Grabbing his gear he rushed ahead and readied his camera to capture the image that had been months in the planning.

The result is the sublime head-to-head composition of Fox Meets Fox, one of 25 photographs in contention to win this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year LUMIX People's Choice Award.

Close to home

Matthew has been photographing foxes in London since late 2016.

He says, 'It happened completely by chance. I went for a walk with my partner after dinner one evening and we ran into two foxes fighting in the middle of a green. It was amazing, so I went to get my cameras. That was the birth of it.'

Since this encounter, Matthew has photographed foxes in streets, gardens and allotments across the north of the city. As his interest in his subjects grew, he began to see new opportunities.

two-foxes-two-collumn

A pair of foxes in London. Credit: Matthew Maran.

 

He says, 'The area is quite famous for street art, and I'd noticed a really nice stencil of a fox on a wall. I thought trying to capture a live fox with it would make a great urban wildlife story.

'My first tactic was to sit and wait. A lot of people think it's an exotic lifestyle being a wildlife photographer - actually often you just have to be quite bloody-minded and go back somewhere over and over again.

'I waited and waited, but foxes never walked past. Eventually a fox did walk towards me but didn't turn left round the corner in the way I'd hoped.

'And then the day the shot happened I wasn't waiting in situ. I saw the fox up the street, but it was on a journey weaving in and out of gardens searching for food.

'I grabbed my gear. My belly was going with nerves, and then sure enough she walked around the corner.'

Speaking of his image, Matthew observes that it is the ordinariness of the setting that makes the scene so special.

'I think for people living in London and the UK the background context works. It's Victorian housing so we recognise the brickwork, the front garden and the wheelie bin. We see this stuff day to day and it's mundane. Then suddenly you have this magic moment in front of it.'

'When I saw the image I thought: 'I'm definitely entering this into Wildlife Photographer of the Year.'

Searching for Stewy

Matthew's image has not only gained him recognition through its inclusion in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, it has also given him the opportunity to make a connection with a fellow artist.

He says, 'He's called Stewy and he's done a lot of street art in London. He was quite hard to find, but I was eventually able to get in contact.'

 

At first I was nervous because I thought 'this is half his picture' - but thankfully he was thrilled with it.

'Wrapping up that side of the story has been really nice. I've got a good relationship with him now and it's all feel-good.'

An iconic carnivore on the doorstep

For Matthew, photographing foxes near his home is just as thrilling as taking a distant photography trip. 

He says, 'Being a wildlife photographer, naturally I love animals and I've been fortunate enough to go on safaris all over the world. People can spend a lot of money on these things, but I get just as excited walking five minutes up the road to the allotment wondering what I'll see next.

'Foxes in London are a great news story. I find it extraordinary that they live here with eight million people and how resilient they are. Just imagine the changes they have to cope with.

'Foxes have a history of being seen as cunning - of being evil, even - and this is how they are depicted in a lot of ancient art. In reality they are just an animal that is trying to survive like any other. They're thinking about food, shelter, warmth and if they're lucky, play.'

However, the stereotype has persisted, even among people that care about the environment. 

Matthew says, 'Even some wildlife lovers don't like foxes in their garden. They keep them up at night or they make a mess. Of course, we are all naturally territorial, but we need to share. It's a small price to pay for the joy of this carnivore roaming our streets.

'They have an enigmatic character about them. They can just disappear - it's extraordinary - you see them go into a front garden and then they are gone. It's magic.

Changing perceptions through photography

Matthew is determined to share his love of foxes in the urban environment, and the female fox in his image is an animal he has maintained contact with.

He says, 'She gave birth to four cubs last year so I got lots of footage and stills of her interacting with them.

A sleeping fox in London.

A fox bedding down for the night in London. Credit: Matthew Maran.

 

'By midsummer she was completely bedraggled and skinny working so hard to look after her cubs. I want to show their sensitive side.

'When you start observing these animals over and over again you see their different personalities - one of the cubs was really brave, two others were really nervous - I want to show people that foxes are not vermin, they are individuals like us.'

Speaking about Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Matthew says, 'I like the way the competition is geared towards storytelling and conservation. The competition has an opportunity, with such a huge audience, to promote and educate people about our environment.'

'It's a thrill. I've been trying for 17 years so it means a lot.'

Vote for your favourite

Voting for the LUMIX People's Choice Award is now closed.

Find out more about Matthew Maran

To see more images of foxes in London, visit Matthew Maran's website

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