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They live among us: photographer Matthew Maran captures urban foxes

Fox meets fox Fox meets fox Matthew Maran
11 Feb
2021
When photographer Matthew Maran first snapped a fox he had no idea how familiar they would soon become

It’s all too easy to overlook the beauty that exists on our doorsteps. When nature documentaries highlight the  stunning deltas of southern Africa or the coral reefs of the Pacific, an English allotment can feel drab. But, as nature photographer Matthew Maran discovered, looking closer to home can bring extraordinary results. ‘As a wildlife photographer, you often think you have to go far away,’ says Matthew. ‘But in two out of the last three Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions, I’ve had images of foxes placed, close to home, ten minutes walk from my house.’

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In 2020, Matthew’s image of a fox grasping an alarmingly large rat saw him scoop a highly commended award in the prestigious annual competition, but it was really chance that led him to focus on these wily night-prowlers of London streets. ‘I always knew that I wanted to focus on one animal, but I didn’t think, “Oh, I’m definitely going to do foxes”. It was just a chance encounter. On Boxing Day 2016, I walked with my partner up the street, close to Turnpike Lane Station, and there were two foxes just fighting in the middle of a green, up on their haunches. I started going back over and over and over, and then about a year later, I got access to the allotment where they live. That was when I really started to get more deeply involved and learn about the family structure.’

T 020Fox drinking from a water trough [Matthew Maran]

As with any wildlife photography, getting the best shots of this family involved a certain amount of patience. ‘Something that I say when giving advice to young photographers is to find a location that you can go back to over and over again. There’s no secret to it. I’ve got images in my head; sometimes they come off, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you rely on a bit of spontaneity, like that picture of the fox with the rat. I could never plan for such a picture. But I was in the right place at the right time and that was just by going there. When you get a situation like that, you have to just make sure that you react quickly, that your settings are all in the right place. There’s a bit of hope involved as well, especially with explosive action and behaviour, that the fox is going to be in the frame the way you want. Other shots that I’ve got have been more constructed and I use a remote trigger and two flashes.’

Sometimes, however, no amount of equipment can make nature play ball. ‘I’ve been trying to get pictures of foxes coming back to the den with food in their mouth to feed their young. I’ve completely failed. But if the vixen does have cubs in the same place this year, then I will have all that experience of failure and hopefully I can get it.’

 E7A7547v2The rat game [Matthew Maran]

For Matthew, it’s this constant interaction with one place, and one group of animals, that allows him to tell a meaningful story and reveal the diversity of wild creatures that, from a fleeting glance (the most we usually get), look so similar. By gaining the trust of the animals he has also become more acquainted with the constant danger that underpins their lives. ‘I’m particularly attached to one vixen, the first one I saw fighting. She’s still around to this day, which is extraordinary because the average lifespan of a fox in the city is only 18 months. Most of them get hit by cars or perhaps starve. Mange is still a big killer; they could eat poison, rodenticide. So it’s a tough life for urban foxes. I saw one with a cut-off plastic bottle over its head.’

‘You don’t have to be hard hitting as a photographer,’ Matthew continues. ‘And you shouldn’t be pressured to be hard hitting but, at the same time, if you’re photographing the natural world, as a photographer you do have a responsibility. With my fox work, I’m trying to educate people about foxes, to show that they’re just living among us and trying to make a living, just like us. If I can change a few hearts and minds with my work, then I feel that, as a photographer, that’s a success.’

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