In the Company of Lions


Time to read 6 min

How did you spend the first couple of months of the new year? It’s likely that you weren’t in the company of African lions. But world-renowned photographer David Yarrow was. These stunning images, Succession, and The Old Man and the Sea, were shot in South Africa and Anguilla, and you can read the story behind each, in David’s own words, below. And, since it’s hard to resist an image that includes supermodel Cindy Crawford, we’ve also shared the story behind David’s interpretation of her iconic Pepsi ad, 1992, shot at the original location.

David Yarrow, recognized as one of the best-selling fine art photographers in the world, will be at Sorrel Sky Gallery - New York on Thursday, May 23, 2024 from 5-8PM.

David will give a talk about his groundbreaking work, including pieces from right here in New York City. David’s large-format, evocative, and immersive photography of life on earth is distinctive and has earned him an ever-growing following amongst art collectors.

David Yarrow photography
Sorrel Sky Gallery

“It’s been quite a revelation to work with Nikon’s new flagship camera, the Z9, in Africa this week. I don’t think photography is really about cameras, but having said that, this new model is so damn good, I can’t really imagine life without it and that’s after just four days in the field.

Speaking of which, I can’t imagine life without Kevin Richardson – The Lion Whisperer. We have worked together now for eight years, and the length of that friendship has fostered both trust and understanding. This image from last night is fairly special and is a testimony to the relationship; well that and a camera body that performs exceptionally in the most challenging of briefs.

Kevin continues to do so much to raise awareness of the plight of the lion and I am fortunate to have him in my life. Without him, there is no picture.

David Yarrow photography
David Yarrow Photography

We have entitled this image Succession in part because Nikon’s history moves on again and iconic bodies that I have used like the FM2, the F3, and the D850 must now raise their hats to the greatest camera in Nikon’s history. The name is also fitting because the lion in this image – Yame – rescued some years ago from a discredited petting center in Spain has succeeded Thor and Vayetse as being the poster lion within Kevin’s care and an ambassador for lions everywhere. He is in sensational condition and is just a little handsome – as this photograph shows.”

David Yarrow photography
Sorrel Sky Gallery

“He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach.” — Ernest Hemingway, from The Old Man and the Sea – 1952

“The success of The Old Man and the Sea – Hemingway’s last novel – made him an international celebrity. The book, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, tells the story of Santiago, an aging, experienced fisherman who has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish.

In the famous prose copied above, the lions symbolise Santiago’s lost youth as well as his pride (a group of lions being a “pride”). In this way, the lions also symbolise Santiago’s affinity with nature. Now that Santiago is no longer young, and has lost his friends, family, and strength, he sees the lions only in his dreams.

I have long wanted to tell this story in my own way, with the lions I work with in Kevin Richardson’s sanctuary, of which I am proud to be an ambassador. My friendship with Kevin goes back a long way and the mutual trust allows us to explore creative ideas that would otherwise be over-ambitious.

When shooting a composite image like this, I prefer to shoot almost sequentially; the longer the gap and the moment can be lost. I saw an opportunity in January 2022 to shoot the beach scene in the Caribbean and then within the week complete the job in South Africa.

We were in Anguilla working on our Pirates of the Caribbean project and Hemingway was never far from my mind, after all, Cuba, where he wrote and located the book, was less than 1000 miles away. Early on in our Anguilla adventure, I met Tasha, an old Rastafarian fisherman boasting the longest hair I had ever seen in a man and I knew immediately that he was my Santiago.

David Yarrow photography
David Yarrow Photography

He was a filmmaker’s gold so long as you caught him before his first strong joint of the day, around 6.30 am, but luckily that was exactly the time I wanted to shoot in order to eliminate directional ambient light.

My guidance to Tasha was to look like he was half awake and dreaming. There has never been an easier direct to an actor in film history as this is after all his default position. With little trouble, I left the Caribbean with my first piece of the jigsaw.

Only five days later we were in South Africa and an enormous canvas from my shoot with ‘Santiago’ had already been erected in the veldt. In front of the canvas, the production team had made a beach resembling the white beaches of Anguilla. I recognise that over the years, production has become easier as we work with the very best of the best wherever we go and it does make a difference.

The final piece of the jigsaw was the hardest. Hemingway talked of lions – not a single lion – and I knew therefore that I needed two male lions in the frame if my interpretation of Santiago’s dream was to be pure.

David Yarrow photography
David Yarrow Photography

Kevin walks his lions out most days, so they were used to early morning exercise; the only change this time was that there was a third party in a cage and a beach 100 miles from Pretoria – a first for Transvaal!

The end result gives me pleasure. It tells the story of The Old Man and the Sea as well as I could have hoped.”

David Yarrow photography
David Yarrow Photography & Sorrel Sky Gallery

“Joe Pytka’s 1992 Pepsi Ad with Cindy Crawford is iconic; indeed, it is probably one of the most celebrated commercials of all time. So much so, that there have been many retakes and parodies. As we all know, it featured a 26-year-old Crawford pulling up to the Halfway Café in a red sports car wearing a white tank top and jean shorts. Two young boys stare as the supermodel buys a Pepsi from a vending machine and drinks it down.

For some time I had yearned to do my own interpretation of the advert with a still photograph and I secured Cindy’s involvement, who in turn secured Pepsi’s approval (given the implicit tribute, why would Pepsi say “no”?). The Halfway House has not changed at all from 1992 and neither really has Cindy. The rest of the props were easy to replicate.

David Yarrow photography
David Yarrow Photography

The issue was the two boys who were never in the same frame as Cindy in the advert and would be even harder to acknowledge or incorporate into one photograph whilst maintaining the narrative. The idea I went along with was to use wolves instead – that way I could introduce a new angle without losing the integrity of the adaptation.

Why wolves? Well, it is a metaphor for all the men who have wanted to be at that gas station the next time Cindy Crawford turned up to fill up with gas, or indeed buy a soft drink. I wanted them to be looking keenly towards Cindy and the only way that could work in my set was to have them approaching her from behind. Since the roof was down in the car, it made total sense for them to have stealthily sneaked into the back seats whilst she went about her business. There is the necessary hunger and yearning in their disposition.

Cindy looks fabulous and makes the image, which we all agreed had to be in colour. I must make mention of Peter Savic – the legendary hairstylist who worked with Cindy on the original commercial. How lucky am I that 29 years later he came back to the Halfway House for the reunion and styled Cindy’s hair again?”

DYP would like to make it clear that the “wolf ” in the image is actually a domesticated Tamaskan dog – which has similar facial characteristics to Wolves.

David Yarrow at Sorrel Sky Gallery

Reach out to our team of art advisors with any questions about the works seen in this blog. We'd love to see you in the gallery, where you can enjoy the stunning work of David Yarrow in person.