Friday, 24 January 2014

LS ARTS: Doug Allan – Attenborough’s Man Behind the Camera

Doug Allan is stood on stage wearing a shark t-shirt welcoming the audience to the final date on his tour.
He has filmed in the most far flung corners of the earth and seen some of the rarest sights known to man but on 28th October took to the stage at The Carriageworks to talk about his experiences and his new book ‘Life Behind The Lens’.

Much as David Attenborough is known for his iconic and entrancing story telling voice, it is Allan’s unbelievable camera work which has the world holding it’s breath in anticipation, making series like The Blue Planet, Life and Planet Earth such resounding success stories. Attenborough is to be held responsible for getting him into the business. Allan, first scientist and then diver took to combining the two which has lead him through 30 years taking a vast profusion of footage.

He has been awarded two Polar Honours; the second presented to him by Prince Charles, who as Allan tells us had done his research. As this story begins, a smile spreads across his face and he embellishes the talk with another brilliant anecdote, telling the audience how when Prince Charles bestowed the award, saying he knew it to be the second Allan, in his heartwarming rolling Scottish accent replies “yes and your mum gave me the first one!” The audience ripples with laughter and Allan maneuvers smoothly back into the topic at hand.

When asked what is the best thing he has filmed, there is one answer: the polar bear. He has spent hundreds of days in their natural habitat in order to observe and understand them, joking that “it’s good to recognise a curious bear and one with ‘evil intent’, you can tell the difference!’ The audience is reassured that there is always a man on a snow machine, some rather exciting sounding flares and ‘bearspray’ ready to chase off any with said intent.

 His extensive time in both the Arctic and Antarctica has lead him across land and ice both above and below the water. He has been captured filming and befriending curious leopard seals toting prize dead penguins who are momentarily mesmerised by their own reflection, made a decision between saving his wife or her video camera after an underwater encounter with the tail of a humpback whale, and managed to escape the grip of a walrus who mistook him for a seal which, he says, is definitely the most dangerous thing that has happened whilst filming. Jaws picked up off of the floor, the talk continues and Allan has the audience in the palm of his hand.

Through his honest and scientific approach to the study of his beloved Arctic and without the heavy emotive imagery we are so used to seeing in the media, the talk slips into a moment of sobriety as he moves on to talk about it’s future. It is simply and pragmatically explained that the uncertainty of the future of The Arctic lies with the shrinking of the ice itself. Calmly, he tells the audience in no uncertain terms the position it is in and what awaits it if the world continues to exploit it.

Doug Allan is a modern day explorer. He has dedicated years of his life to collecting and imparting footage of things that we could only dream of seeing first hand. He has given to the world some of the most unbelievable and glorious footage and yet in front of an audience remains modest, engaging and evidently passionate about his work.

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