UNTANGLING THE KNOT, BELUGAS & BEARS: My natural World on Film
Whittles Publishing, 2020, 272 pages
Paperback £20.95 ISBN: 978 184995 444 0
Review by Alistair Crowle
In Untangling the Knot, Mike Potts dips into 35 years of experiences as a professional wildlife cameraman. The first chapter sets the scene explaining his childhood and growing up and how this led to his career. The ten chapters following the introduction each focus upon a particular place and the job required. These accounts are based upon diaries and film-notes made at the time, written in the present tense. They take the reader from the Arctic to Antarctic via New Guinea, Africa, North and South America, Cuba, Komodo and New Zealand, a journey that provides something for everyone.
The book is in paperback and illustrated throughout with photographs or drawings by the author or people he was working with at the time. Mike Potts writes in an easy-going, accessible style which is a pleasure to read.
I enjoyed this book on several levels not least because at the time of reading, the country was in the grip of Covid-19 lockdown and the next best thing to getting out into the natural world is reading about it. I was a child at the time Mike Potts began his career and as I read, I found myself smiling at the constant realisation that I remembered watching the programmes and particular scenes described within the book. One of the more famous moments for me was Sir David Attenborough up a tree with a bird of paradise in the background.
I think many people would think that the life of a wildlife camera man is one long jolly, immersed in glamorous wildlife by day and then back to the hotel’s comforts in the evening. What is apparent, throughout the book, is just how tough it can be to put yourself in a position to have a chance of getting the commissioned sequences. Despite mention of mosquitos and upset stomachs, I suspect that much of the discomfort is under-played and despite all the planning, I cannot but help think that there is an element of luck involved in getting home safely.
One group of people that are beyond awesome are those that find the birds of paradise and bowerbirds deep in the jungle for the film crew in the first place. It may have taken 90 hours in a hide to produce 3 minutes of film for the programme but one wonders just how many hours it took to scout out and locate the birds in the first place.
This would be a good book to pass to anyone aspiring to work in the natural world. It could be said that the author was lucky to be in the right place at the right time but that would be to miss an important point that is covered in the introductory chapter. Mike Potts began life as a birder, he qualified as a ringer and learned a great deal about the habitats and behaviours of birds and animals as a result. He then developed his interest in using film cameras and making films and this led to career opportunities. Much in life depends upon a bit of luck but you can do a great deal to prime yourself for an opportunity when it arises.
If you are interested in knowing more about how natural history films are made, then this would be a great introduction; similarly, if you like reading travel and wildlife books, then this holds plenty of variety and if you were at a loss about where to consider visiting at some point, just about every climate and terrain is covered in this entertaining account.