By Mira Brody
David Yarrow is always lying on his stomach, says Courtney Collins, owner of Courtney Collins Fine Art. That’s because the world-renowned photographer takes the definition of “immersive photography” to a finite level, his lens pointed, unflinching, at 80-pound Tamaskan dogs, or lions, or down the barrels of guns to capture many of his shots.
Snapping the photo of an apex predator, a gunfight or the piercing eyes of a bar maiden holding a shot of whiskey, however, is a fraction of the time it takes to build the scene around him so that you, as a viewer, feel like a subject in the frame.
“It’s a picture that you can look at for a very long time and one that has a narrative that can never be taken again,” says Collins in her Big Sky Town Center gallery, Yarrow prints spanning the width and height of the walls around her. Her focus is on a 71-inch-by-104-inch piece called “No Currency.” “You could never go back and take this again.”
Yarrow is no stranger to capturing the right moment and took up photography at a young age. At 20-years-old, the Glasgow, Scotland-born Brit captured the famous image of Diego Maradona at the World Cup Finals in Mexico City while on assignment for The Times of London. He has since traveled the globe, capturing the intense likenesses of wildlife and people from Antarctica, Africa and the American West.
Collins is Yarrow’s exclusive representative in Montana. She’s known and sold his art since before she opened her own gallery in 2020 and of Yarrow’s 10 U.S. galleries, hers is one of his highest ranking. In addition to selling his art, she says working with Yarrow on set is an honor and a fascinating process to witness. She joined him on a recent shoot at Crazy Mountain Ranch north of Big Timber, Montana, which took three days and consisted of an entire crew, wardrobe and makeup, carefully curated props and background characters.
Everything from beginning to end is a process driven by the strong artistic vision and perfectionism of Yarrow.
“His process is so interesting,” says Collins. “He’s not a filmmaker but he’s driven by filmmakers and making a picture that has strong content. His photography is cinematic. Everything is purposeful.”
Inspired by filmmakers like the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, Yarrow’s finished product tells an entire story in a single frame. One such piece is “Cat Walk,” featuring the King of Africa—a massive lion named Vayetse—staring down the camera as he struts down an earthy runway, surrounded by traditionally dressed Zulu people, in Dinokeng, South Africa, where the was piece was produced.
“Cat Walk” is a quintessential Yarrow piece, both in its painstaking detail and lasting effect. The project was done in partnership with Kevin Richardson, a conservationist and filmmaker known as “The Lion Whisperer.” Together, they built a narrative that honored the efforts of Richardson’s lion sanctuary and the beasts they admire so much.
“There was a great deal of creative processing long before we arrived in South Africa as this was very much a picture that was going to be made, not taken,” explains Yarrow in his artist’s statement for “Cat Walk.”
They shot over a three-day period at 7:15 each morning to capture the same light, first photographing the Zulu people and imposing that photograph onto a massive canvas, then shooting Vayetse with the canvas erected behind him, Yarrow safely in a cage with his camera so the feline subject could do what he does best and truly own the catwalk.
It’s a photograph that leaves visitors to Collins’ gallery gasping when they enter and see it for the first time.
“I’ll be in the back sitting at my desk and I’ll hear people walk in and just gasp,” says Collins. “It’s kind of nice to have your breath taken away by something like that.”
Yarrow’s nonprofit partnerships and personal campaigns have raised money for a variety of causes throughout his career. His ongoing work with model Cindy Crawford has raised $2.2 million for the University of Wisconsin’s Pediatric Cancer Care Unit in Madison, Wisconsin, helping young patients battling leukemia.
Proceeds from his 2018 “The Wolves of Wall Street” print signed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese contributed $200,000 to a variety of conservation nonprofits. In 2020, Yarrow’s Koala Comeback campaign raised over $1.4 million for wildlife affected by the devastating Australian brushfires and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he joined the Art for Heroes campaign, providing support to frontline workers.
“He’s a huge philanthropist, and that’s why I like working with him,” says Collins. “One of the most exciting things about working with David is that he was such a big deal, and was part of a much bigger deal, that he was giving back to the world, not just Montana, but globally.”
Collins, who has been on three sets now with Yarrow, calls her relationship with the photographer a “privilege and an honor.” She recalls at one shoot in Virginia City, Montana, at Pioneer Bar, she walked into the set of “The Final Frontier” and her jaw dropped to the floor. Yarrow’s creative vision had come to life through the costumes, characters and live animals he had meticulously planned for this piece.
“It was amazing to watch,” she said of the experience working alongside him in action.
The immersive photography genre goes both ways: part of his final product is placing you, the viewer, where he wants you in his shot.
Back at Collins’ gallery, while looking at the image “No Currency,” photographed in the Colorado Rockies on Schmid Ranch where Tarantino filmed “The Hateful Eight,” you are being stared down by a man with a black, wide-brimmed hat, his eye patch covering some unexplained affliction. Behind him, two other men, their rifles fixed ahead, stand on the roof of a stagecoach.
Their target? You.