“Photography saved my life”, says Alfie Bowen, Autistic Wildlife Photographer
Alfie Bowen is a UK based Wildlife Photographer who was diagnosed with Autism as a kid. He spent years being bullied due to his condition. After receiving a DSLR as a gift on the Christmas of 2015, he shaped his skills and became a master of the craft.
His love for animals and his eye for detail led him to become a Wildlife Photographer. His approach is to shoot in Black and White so that he can focus on his subject’s personality. His work has been featured by BBC Earth and his fan list includes celebrities such as Sir David Attenborough.
He has been signed by UK’s leading Art Gallery Network, Castle Fine Art. He has made a film with WaterBear titled ‘An Eye For Detail’ to raise awareness on Autism. He is currently serving as a Nikon Z creator and is all set to launch his book ‘Wild World: Nature Through An Autistic Eye’ next month. Further, he is the ambassador of Clinks Care Farm, Big Blue Ocean Clean up, Young Bird Photographer Of The Year, African Revival, Nikan and works closely with WWF as well.
He spoke to Capturing WOW about his inspiring journey from being an Autistic child to becoming a celebrated Artist, Activist and Author.
Image Credit: Bethany Ellen Photography
In one of your previous interviews, you mentioned that Photography became your therapy. Can you please elaborate?
Yes, I discovered photography during the toughest chapter of my life while I was facing constant bullying at school because of people’s inability to accept my differences and my diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. It quickly became an escape from reality. I would lose myself in thinking up potential compositions and then go into the field to turn them into reality. I have often stated that I believe photography has saved my life because had it not come into my life when it did, the months that followed could have been very different.
How did your parents react when you broke the news – Photography as a career?
I think my family was relieved that I had found an outlet for the pent-up pain which I had accumulated as a result of the bullying, and had something in my life that I actually enjoyed. It had been a long journey since the diagnosis and my mother had fought three legal battles to get me into a special school. I never intended for it to grow into a career. At that time, it was just a hobby and an escape. But it just continually evolved over the last few years into a career for which I am very grateful for. After many years of social exclusion, I have finally found my calling. The obsessive and non-stop nature of my mind is now being put to good use in the creation of these vignettes. I am a dreamer, and I am living my dream.
You have always been obsessed with animals and hence, you chose Wildlife
Photography. Do you see yourself choosing a different genre in a parallel universe and why?
I have Autism and Autism brings with it obsessions. I’ve had an obsession with animals ever since I was a small child.So, photographing them was a natural evolution of that obsession. I have dabbled a little with landscapes and seascapes, which I don’t mind, but my true passion is animals. I don’t think anything could ever overtake or change that. I am a firm believer that you should photograph what you love, and I love animals more than
Image credits: Alfie Bowen Photography
What challenges did you face in becoming one of the UK’s most popular Wildlife Photographers with ASD?
That’s very kind of you, thank you. Although I’m not sure that I deserve such a title!
It’s been a long journey. The key has been my determination and a strong desire to prove the people that doubted me wrong. I will never give up because this is my dream and people should always follow their dreams. I often look back on the struggles I had as an Autistic child; the constant bullying and the feelings of being alone. Emotions are the key to creating good artwork and they are fuel for me.
There’s no doubt that Autistic people such as you are gifted with an eye for details. Do you think this has helped you in your craft?
Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions around Autism and Autistic people. The biggest one is probably the idea that we are stupid, unable to achieve academically and incapable. I remember when I chose my GCSE options shortly before leaving the mainstream, I was told “You can’t do geography, it’s too much writing”. I moved to Centre Academy and passed a two-year GCSE geography course in a year, and went on to get an A* advanced writing at a level standard.
We are not stupid, incapable or any less intelligent than anyone else. In fact, many Autistic people are incredibly intelligent. Just look at Albert Einstein or Tim Burton. Just because our brains are wired differently doesn’t mean they are any less effective. So, clearly, the journey as a photographer began with being in an environment where I felt comfortable enough to express that eye for detail without fearing bullying or judgement. Once I felt comfortable enough to expose and use my hyper-awareness, it became an integral pillar in my style of photography. I do believe that Autism allows me to notice things that others simply don’t.
Image Credits: Alfie Bowen Photography
How did becoming a part of Castle Fine Art impact your life?
It’s a great honour to work with Castle Fine Art. They are the best in the world at what they do. The entire team has been so friendly and accommodating. They want to promote and celebrate my differences rather than hide them, and that is wonderful. It’s a dream come true to be exhibiting in forty galleries.
Can you please shed some light on your inspirational film ‘An Eye For Detail’ that you did with WaterBear?
Ever since I began the journey as an artist, I have been fuelled by a strong desire to use the platform I have to raise awareness of Autism, in the hope that it inspires others and prevents them from going through the horrors that I went through. We’ve essentially condensed the last 22 years of my life into a short, powerful piece of film, with the aim of showing my photography and proving that Autistic people can achieve great things. The film has a simple and universal message – Follow your passions and keep fighting, because the sun will shine again. The film, titled ‘An Eye For Detail’ was released on WaterBear Network on February 5. You can download the app and watch the film for free on smartphones, or online at www.waterbear.com
Becoming a Nikon Z Creator is a huge deal. What was your first reaction that
followed your appointment?
I have always used Nikon gear. It has formed a central part of my journey with photography. So, I am hugely proud and honoured to have been appointed as a Z Creator. The results have been amazing since I began using the Z7II camera.
Your book ‘Wild World: Nature Through An Autistic Eye’ is all set to be launched in September. What can we expect to learn from the book?
The book has been a dream of mine for several years. I’m so excited to finally share it with the world after lots of hard work. This coffee-table book features 200+ of my Fine Art photographs alongside essays about my journey with Autism, and how I took some of the photographs. I am honoured that Chris Packham CBE penned the foreword, Dr Duncan Rollo the afterword, and Sir Richard Branson provided a quote. The book is available for pre-order now via my website – www.alfiebowen.com
You are mentoring Autistic children at the moment. How does it feel?
I am trying to do my bit, in my own small way. There is no greater gift than making another Autistic child feel less lonely, less alien. Autisic people have the ability to create, to invent, and to educate. All that’s needed to unlock these vaults of talent is a little acceptance and friendship. I won’t stop until I’ve changed the world for Autistic people. I know that sounds like a crazy idea, but I have proved people wrong my entire life, and I’ll do it again.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
My childhood is over, but my advice for others in a similar situation is to never give up, to hold on to your dreams and to always reach out for help. It may seem scary, but there are people that genuinely care and want to see you succeed.
Also, my message for the wider society is clear; Let’s all learn to accept people’s differences, and spread a little love in 2020. No one should be made to feel that suicide is the answer, and no one should be bullied for being themselves.