With a passion for beautiful landscapes, Richard Fox balances his working life as a diagnostic veterinary histopathologist with photography
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AFTER many years of moving around the UK with my career, perhaps without a sense of belonging, I finally found a place I could call home in the small town of Bovey Tracey, on the edge of east Dartmoor. When I visited it for the first time, after leaving Liverpool university, I knew this was the place for me. I saw the relief of Dartmoor on the horizon and gasped. Over the past 11 years I have cycled and walked over much of it, and recently this has led me to capture it.
I qualified from the Royal Veterinary College in 1998, moving to north Devon to start my career as a mixed animal practitioner. I had my fair share of call-outs, from remote calvings on Exmoor in the snow, to my first emergency evening surgery and performing a gastrotomy on a dog to retrieve a large fish hook.
I soon realised that although my job was rewarding, it wasn't quite what I was looking for and decided to return to academia to study anatomical pathology. I completed a three-year residency at Liverpool university, and after that a lectureship. During this time I found that diagnostic histopathology and cytology was the challenge I needed. Having always lived in semirural areas, apart from as an undergraduate, I think I yearned to be back in the green stuff. I met my wife-to-be in Liverpool, but shortly after made the decision to move into full-time diagnostic practice. Luckily, she moved with me when I accepted a job at Abbey Veterinary Services in 2004. Shortly after, we were engaged and then we were married a year later at a local Devon folly.⇓
I managed to complete my European diploma in veterinary pathology in 2007, despite working full time. Studying for your board exams definitely gets harder when you're in a non-academic environment as you have less time to commit to study and it is often limited to your (not-so) spare time.
What should I do next? I believe it is a pivotal moment when you have travelled along a pure career path and reached the destination. I was still left with the desire to keep learning – not just vocationally, but creatively. I had had a stint writing articles and product reviews for a mountain bike magazine and building websites for some of my pathology groups and colleagues, but soon after that my love of the countryside really kicked in.
I started photographing landscapes in earnest in 2012 when I made a risky purchase of a full frame DSLR camera (digital single-lens reflex). My motivation to capture better images started here. Like many, I thought that purchasing an expensive camera would make me a better photographer – it didn't! I was determined to improve and ensure my own images were of the same standard as I had seen from fellow photographers – the quest (and addiction) commenced. Little did I know that living on the outskirts of Dartmoor would have such a profound effect on my outlook, passions and direction in life.
Dartmoor National Park is an area of moorland in south Devon that covers 954 km2. The upland granite tors are the most iconic aspects of Dartmoor, but there are lesser-known and less-frequented areas that I also enjoy, and love to explore and photograph. Dartmoor has much to offer; however, so do many other parts of Devon with its fabulous rolling hills and fantastic coastline.
The problem with a creative hobby is the drive to improve. It makes you push yourself into situations that you would never have imagined. Getting up at 2.30 am for a summer sunrise, with an hour's drive and hour's hike into the wilderness, is not easy without something to motivate you. When you see that stunning red and golden light bathing the landscape around you, or that huge layer of cloud beneath, you keep going back for more.
Landscape photography can be a solitary pursuit, but after a while you start networking with other photographers, making new friends with whom you can share the art and company.
It's common for me to wake early, look out of the window and make the decision to venture out. This is probably as a result of my obsessive study of weather charts and satellite cloud imagery, with a bit of luck thrown in. It makes me keep going out in those hours I found difficult when I was a new graduate. Ready for a quick exit, I grab my prepacked camera bag and I am out of the door, mindful of the time it takes to get back home and then to work. Through my own personal journey, I have discovered my favourite condition is mist. Consequently, these conditions are the driving force that gets me out of bed in the wee small hours.
We used to go on holiday and trips away with our bikes, but as my grey hairs have become more numerous, my sights have turned to walking and hiking. Holidays are now geared towards visiting beautiful vistas and areas of wilderness like Iceland, Norway and Scotland. The ability to access more areas on foot rather than a bike, and having to carry camera equipment, slows you down and makes you absorb what is around you.
As with many pursuits, things progress and opportunities come your way. I rebranded my photography and started selling my prints and digital images. As a result, I started to earn enough to pay for my equipment and a bit more. More recently I have started to write articles for photography magazines including On Landscape, Landscape Photography Magazine and David Noton's Chasing the Light magazine as well as writing my own photography blog at www.richardfoxphotography.com/blog.
I have also recently started working with Sony UK and other photographers to help promote the company's full-frame Alpha mirrorless camera system. Gaining the support of a major camera manufacturer has been great, giving me some support and exposure. As you further develop your portfolio of work, you also start receiving inquiries for bespoke jobs as well as inquiries from other photographers to run workshops and lectures. As I had given a number of lectures to veterinary undergraduates, these were things I felt comfortable doing. After my first two-hour presentation to a local camera club I found myself being asked to do more for other clubs.⇓⇓
The experience of presenting and talking about my passions, obsessions and our great habitats has been truly rewarding. I have started running Dartmoor-based small group and one-to-one photography workshops during weekends. Presently, it is not something I have a lot of spare time for, although I do try to fit in somewhere.⇓
I have also recently made a shift in my employment. I have undertaken a new role as a diagnostic histopathologist at Finn Pathologists in Norfolk. Why did you move I hear you ask? I haven't. I was looking for the opportunity to reduce hours in my working week, with the flexibility of working from home. I was approached with the concept of digital diagnostic pathology (or telepathology). It was a method I was fully aware of, and had used for distance learning, but not one I had used in the field, as it were.
The slides are digitally scanned and stored for the remote pathologist to read as soon as they have been processed and cut. It seems to be a perfect balance between being flexible at home, to get out early and late for photography, and access to digitised high-res images for teaching and research; there is also the lack of the need for a microscope and all its postural implications. It also allows me to work at different locations, if I need to visit the office for example.
I don't know how far my semi-professional photography will go. At present I just want to enjoy it, which has a knock-on effect with my diagnostic duties – a fulfilled work and leisure balance.