small green snake with its mouth open

Small Wonders of the Amazon

Javier Aznar

Throughout history, naturalists have been driven by the spirit of discovery. The ecstasy of uncovering new species or observing previously unseen behaviours is compelling on a personal level, and that joy can be multiplied when passing on what they have found. More recently, however, in the face of mankind waking up to its custodianship of the Earth, there is more to it. The documentation and understanding of the natural world has taken on a more desperate edge. With habit and species loss undeniable in every corner of our little oasis, naturalists have a vital job of education to do.

Naturalist and photographer Javier Aznar, who has been working with Sony cameras since 2018, says, “The way I think about it is that people can’t care about something if they don’t know that it exists. That’s why I’ve spent so many years photographing the lesser seen fauna of the Amazon – its insects and arachnids, centipedes, reptiles and amphibians. These animals don’t make the postcard versions of the Amazon or other places, which are often reserved for large mammals and colourful birds, but they're no less beautiful or important.”

Working with Sony Alpha cameras and lenses, “has been a game changer for me,” says Javier, “mainly because they blend brilliant quality with toughness and portability. I work in quite extreme environments in terms of heat and humidity, and also I do a lot of walking – it could be up to 12 hours a day looking for animals – so small and light camera equipment means a smaller, lighter backpack, too.”

green caterpillar on the underside of a leaf © Javier Aznar | Sony α7R IV + FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro | 1/160s @ f/16, ISO 160

“Insects in particular need our help because they’re too often dismissed as pests, as unwelcome, or not seen at all,” he continues. “But the reality is that they’re a vital part of the pyramid of biodiversity that we all live within. They’re close to the base of the pyramid, yes, but if you lose the insects, you have no pollination, so you have no trees, no fruits, no crops. And therefore you don’t have any of the animals that feed on them either – the birds and the mammals. And of course, without crops, there’s no people either.”

Therefore, Javier argues, even if you don't like the look of spiders, or beetles, you must realise that to conserve them is to protect all these other animals that you do care about. And to protect human life. So that is what his work has become. “Every day,” he explains, “I try to find the animals that no-one knows are there, to observe their lives, and to record them in a way that makes people sit up and take notice.”

small green frog on top of a bamboo shoot © Javier Aznar | Sony α7R IV + FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro | 1/160s @ f/16, ISO 80

Of course, like the delicate biodiversity of our planet, Javier did not arrive at this point over night. His perspective is the culmination of a lifetime’s fascination with nature, starting with the creatures of his native Spain. “My family owned a small bit of land in the surroundings of Madrid,” he remembers, “and we’d go there in the summer to connect with nature. My parents really helped in his way, always encouraging me to see the beauty in things that other people maybe found unpleasant or alarming. Now, that’s what I’m doing, too.”

Travelling to South America, and to Ecuador, where he experienced the Amazon rain forest for the first time, Javier was “overwhelmed by the wildlife, the landscape and nature in general there. Of course it was an adventure, too. Some of the place we went were only accessible by days of travel in a canoe, and it was amazing to visit these indigenous people and see how different their lives were. We think we need so many things to survive, but they are an inspiration, with houses they made themselves, food they harvest, and their connection to the living world around them.”

yellow caterpillar crawling along a twig © Javier Aznar | Sony α7R IV + FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro | 1/100s @ f/13, ISO 320

Every day in the rainforest was – and still is – a feast of discovery for him. “When you walk, you find so many animals that only exist there. Hundreds of species in a single afternoon. It’s like a candy shop for me. Such alien sights, shapes, colours and behaviours, that are totally different from what you can find in places like Europe or North America.”

Of course, in his time visiting the Amazon, he has seen the decline, too. “I’ve seen more habitat loss, yes. Cities are growing, and there are more roads, fewer trees… it’s often not something that you can’t see day to day, like when you see a friend once in a while you notice the changes in them, that you wouldn’t if you saw them every day. But from one year to the next the scars on the landscape become much clearer.”

“But it is not all downhill,” he adds, hopefully. “In some cases, it’s more of a change in the types of species that live in a space. New niches open and they are filled. And there are areas that we’ve managed to conserve, too. Species that were not present for years are returning.”

small rodent sitting on a branch © Javier Aznar | Sony α7R IV + FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro | 1/250s @ f/14, ISO 200

Of his own part in these successes, Javier is humble. His job, he says, is simply to raise awareness for the creatures under threat, “or even some love.” This is done through not only pure documentation, but by the aesthetic impact he lends to his images. “The process of showing the beauty of these animals needs beautiful photos, too,” Javier explains. “I want them to attract attention in a good way, so I use interesting perspectives and creative lighting to do it. The better the photo, the more people are going to read the caption, or get interested in on the animal!

An important part of this, he says is in mixing pure aestheticism with images of behaviour. “Any image that shows behaviour is great,” he explains, “because it provides a connection with the viewer. And it’s even more important if some of these animals seem strange to us, because if I can shoot a spider building a web or taking care of its babies, it has a more logical and more emotional effect. It can also be scientifically interesting and when you photograph as much as I do, you are bound to see some things that no-one else has before.”

javier aznar sitting at the bottom of a large tree © Javier Aznar | Sony α7R V + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II | 1/5s @ f/4.0, ISO 400

Will the work to reframe these animals in the eyes of humans ever be complete? “I don't think so,” says Javier, “but we are trying. There are hundreds of thousands of species of arthropods, all very different to us, but all sharing the same planet and with as much right to thrive on it as we have. I try to show their uniqueness and personality, and it works. For instance, my own girlfriend, when I met her, she was afraid of spiders, but not any longer. People make these stories, these imagined terrors of the Amazon that they see in movies, but when we can kill those myths it helps save the reality.”

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Javier Aznar

Javier Aznar | Spain

"To preserve, we must first know and love what we can lose, and photography is a useful tool to sensitise and show what surrounds us. With my camera I try to show animals in their purest form, from a biological point of view and at the same time, artistic"

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