Alice Péretié ~ #PhotographyForConservation

Meet Alice, a young and vibrant French Londoner that fell in love with Africa when she was 13, on a trip to Namibia. Her degree in Arts and Sciences at UCL, focused on Sustainable Development, Wildlife Conservation and Project Management. She is a freelance photographer, writing articles and supporting conservation through photography, and storytelling. Wise beyond her years, at 22, her passion and knowledge interlink as she draws inspiration from both philosophy and wildlife to create beautiful and influencing content. “Art is such a powerful medium for raising awareness, and funds.” 

What have been your best and worst decisions made so far in your life?

There are a few key milestones that have really influenced my journey, all contributing in fundamentally different ways. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at the ripe age of 19, almost 4 years ago, is probably the beginning of it all. I funded everything and embarked on my first almost-solo safari with my best friend by my side. It was the first time I’d travelled and organised a trip without the help of anyone other than myself, and funnily enough, the decision came at the perfect time. I was struggling with a lot of personal things, and this may sound very cliché, but reaching the roof of Africa showed me I could quite literally achieve what I wanted if I set my mind to it (other than in academia). It was both a physical and metaphorical ascent – and unblocked so many possibilities.

When I returned home, it hit me that it was high time I start following my passions, but equally that I could and should get out of my comfort zone- that I could trust myself. Things mentally clicked into place, and I started seeing opportunities everywhere. Confidence is something I’d always struggled with, and following my gut and ideas has really helped me build it up, and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today without it.

I’ll cheat a little and regroup two decisions under the “travelling alone to Africa” umbrella aha – this time it was reaching Virunga National Park, in the DRC. A lot of research about the place, a lot of hesitation and doubts before going… but I could not have been happier with my decision. Following that trip, I started telling stories and selling prints and to support conservation, both with funds and awareness, making conservation a bigger part of my life. I realised that I was particularly interested in travelling to remote places and sharing conservation stories that crucially need support. One thing led to another, and the decision to follow my gut and put myself out there has now wonderfully materialised into the project of intertwining conservation with Beauty, philosophy, literature and art.

It can take time, but all bad decisions are important steps and part of the process. I do, however, think that in this case there was absolutely no lesson to be learnt, other than maybe not to leave suitcases open in the bush – and not to rely on French parents for advice on these matters.

Essentially, this series of unfortunate events started and ended with a 30 cm long centipede from Malawi that had stowed away in my luggage, before deciding to go rogue in my brother’s room on a Sunday night at 11 pm, upon my return to London. One of the most tragic, hilarious and most unexpected episodes of my life (and my brother Louis’ too, undoubtedly), that resulted in a series of bad decisions, such as trying to contain it in my bathtub, as well as trying to catch it with yellow kitten rubber gloves.

When you were a child, what was your dream job and why?

There were two jobs I wanted to absolutely do – even if it meant doing both simultaneously!

I wanted to be a vet – I’ve always, always loved animals. My childhood dream was to be a horse vet and have a little countryside house with paddocks and herds of horses living alongside me (typical much?). But because my dream of being surrounded by animals couldn’t exactly materialise at the time, I collected plushy toys instead – there was practically no space on my bed for me to sleep on as they completely surrounded me.

This desire to support life, particularly in animals, with which I seemed to have more affinities than humans at the time, never left me at all. In fact, a few years ago, my grandma – who had remembered my vet ambition, questioned me on why I didn’t end up working with animals. But in a way, I do. Conservation communication, photography for a cause, storytelling, and consulting on crucial projects have become other ways to do so, this time integrating livelihoods and development. The picture may be bigger but the aims are still very much the same, and I feel so much more in my element than if I’d have to perform surgery on an animal (did I mention I’m terrible with precision and geometry in space?).

My other dream job was to be a classical archaeologist – I’m fascinated with all things Ancient Greece, and started learning about the myths, authors and alphabet at a young age. I wanted to spend my days digging in archaeological sites, uncovering hidden fragments of history. Studying Ancient Greek at school helped me to gain an in depth understanding of the classical authors – the playwrights, the philosophers, the politicians and the poets. In fact, I try to draw links between classical myths and philosophy in my articles and photo work about conservation, there are so manly links to be drawn across both fields of knowledge. My own way of making use of ancient history and culture, for lack of being an archaeologist.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

I truly believe that something holding women back is a lack of collaboration and trust between women – put differently, the desire to help each other out by listening, supporting, and enhancing our strengths. It’s not necessarily easy to put ourselves out there in the first place, as we navigate the obstacles that women will inevitably encounter (which does not say men do not either – though they may be different); so why try and bring other women down?

In that same line, and possibly more importantly – I think the biggest challenge will be to make “feminism” a less politicised term, and more of a way of being. To normalise respect for and amongst women rather than something that immediately generates opinions (much like environmentalism does, might I add).

Which is why more than ever, a sign of true leadership, for me at least, is the capability to listen and uplift other women.

What woman inspires you and why?

This is so hard – there are many wonderful women in my life, and in the world, that I look up to.

My heart goes out to my mum, who raised my brother and I in a way I will always, always be thankful for. She’s probably one of the most resilient people I know of, strong but with a gentleness about her that overbears everything else. She taught us love, which is probably the most important quality in my eyes. Some may smile, but it’s a word full of depth: without love – for ourselves, for others, for life, for the things that matter to us, what’s the point of moving forward? Finding an aim, finding something to fill our hearts with – love gives us meaning.

Those who know me know my passion for Ancient Greece, its history, its culture and its language. The Greeks has many words for love, a word so complex, that according to them, it could not simply have one meaning and one form.

The first, eros, is passion; the burning fire that makes us feel alive. But it’s not just physical – Plato argued that eros stems from an appreciation of Beauty, within a person, or within the concept itself, and the pursuit of it is very much a pursuit of Truth, for we are as much attracted to the knowledge of Beauty than to the Beauty itself (See The Symposium).

The second, philo is an affectionate, platonic love, catalysed by the soul, by the mind – if eros guides our search for truth (through the passionate quest of Beauty), philo requires virtue and ethics, for it is the love of community, the spiritual bond uniting people as friends and families. It gave words like “philosophy” – love of wisdom, and is a more general, welcoming, warming kind of love. It has stemmed into philautia, self-love and the respect of the self – equally crucial for a balanced and fruitful existence.

The third, storgê, it is motherly love, love for the next of kin. It commands empathy, but is attributed to the instinct that is the mother’s to protect her young. It is a very sweet and compassionate form of love.

Finally, and most importantly, agapê. Universal, unequivocal, charitable love. Disinterested, selfless, agapê cares about others, and is almost seen as a form so pure of love that some ask if it is attainable. In the ancient texts, this too was linked to the unrivalled bond between a mother and her child, but equally between the gods and the mortals.

My mother (probably unknowingly) taught me to open my heart and to love fiercely. The storgê and agapê are so strong in her, in her ways of being, that is something that’s truly inspired me.

What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

In one word (or three) – developing self-confidence.

Their position is quite important here, I believe. For the generation of women in the Western wold, I think that considering the different expectations, from the pre-existing societal identities and images attributed to “what being a woman” means, to the self-imposed ones, we have a lot to work with and against. We have come a long way to obtain the freedom to navigate these expectations, and I see the challenge residing in whether we take the opportunity to or not.

From this, I suppose that it can be complex to build the confidence to follow one’s aspirations (let alone trusting ourselves enough to find what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning). Being able to consciously know and understand that “we are good enough”, to put ourselves and self-care first -and this does not necessarily imply being selfish – having faith in our decision-making abilities and being aware of our individual capabilities and passions will be a very important component of our personal happiness and successes. That is, I think, the main challenge for our generation and future generations of women. To make use of the opportunities we have to find personal fulfilment. Ultimately, I strongly believe that this will show in our work, in our relationships, in whatever we set our minds to.

But we must also remember that we are in a position where we actually have the freedom to even consider personal fulfilment. It is not the case for many women around the world, and it will be a challenge for them to reach the point where they have the luxury to focus on their personal well-being, to have the confidence to step-up, and to challenge expectations – something that in my eyes ties back to female leadership. Both question 3 and 5 are intimately linked, as for me, supporting other women is a sign of strong female leadership, and developing the confidence to do so will be part of the challenge.