Andy Sands, Chiswick Camera Centre, Wildlife Photographer

Profile by Bridget Osborne

April 2018

Next time you look at a nature magazine, gift card, book or calendar which features British wildlife, look closely at the photography credit. You may well be looking at one of Andy Sands’ pictures.

Andy owns and runs Chiswick Camera Centre and from casual acquaintance, popping in for a camera card and some batteries, you’d never know that he is both an expert photographer and an expert on British wildlife, as he is a modest and unassuming man. But he has had literally thousands of pictures published, won competitions and received recognition at the highest level as a photographer of British wildlife.

Gerald Durrell tendencies

His interest in wildlife started in childhood. Living on the outskirts of Watford, he was able to roam farmland and woodland collecting specimens for his menagerie in the back garden. Like the author Gerald Durrell, he was fascinated by every sort of creature and liked collecting them. His parents were evidently tolerant, even encouraging, but he remembers clearly his bafflement when his primary school teacher Mrs Simmonds sent the class out to find contributions for the nature table. He proudly brought back a grass snake, expecting high praise. She screamed and fled the classroom. The headmaster was even less forgiving when he let loose a load of grasshoppers in the staffroom.

By secondary school he knew he wanted to be a zoologist or biologist, but this being a comprehensive school in the seventies, “the career teacher told me I was too thick and I should think of a career in retail”. Fortunately when he left school at 16 and went to the Job Centre, the first job that came up was in a camera shop. Thirty years on he still works in a camera shop, but now it’s his own and he has run it in Chiswick since 2003.

He is eternally grateful to Andy Warren, his first employer and Roger Stubbs, with whom he worked, who bought Chiswick Camera Centre and then sold it on to him. They taught him about photography. Within a year he’d bought his first camera, a Mamiya ZM, joined a local photography society and started winning prizes.

When I asked him what he most liked photographing, I was a bit disappointed to hear that it was bees and wasps. “Don’t start me on wasps” he said, and indeed once started, his eyes lit up and the torrent of knowledge and enthusiasm was unstoppable, but fascinating. Did you know that there are 264 species of bee in the UK and some 4,000 species of wasp? As we looked through his photographs of the Leaf-Cutting bee carrying a section of leaf as big as itself and a Digger bee carrying a paralysed Hover fly back to its nest he explained how they lay their eggs in the paralysed insect so their larvae grow by feasting on fresh protein. Parasitic wasps drill through the sealed holes of other wasps’ nests to take advantage of all their hard work. The Gasteruption Jaculator lay their eggs actually in the larvae of other wasps. The Hedychiridium Niemelia acts like a cuckoo; it lays its eggs in another wasp’s nest and its larvae supplant theirs. Whereas other people call pest control to get rid of wasps’ nests, Andy actively creates their preferred habitats in his back garden so he can photograph them. There are Digger wasps aplenty in the gardens of Chiswick House apparently too.

Weasels, mink and a polecat in the back garden

Andy doesn’t exclusively photograph bees and wasps. He has pictures of virtually every UK species of mammal, insect and bird. He used to have two stoats, two weasels, a polecat, mink, house mice, harvest mice and a hand reared brown rat in the back garden, which he lent out to the BBC and others for documentary making. Since 2000 he has been supplying images to the Nature Picture Library, the biggest natural history picture agency in Europe, which started life as the BBC’s Natural History Unit stills archive and membership of which conveys a certain kudos amongst wildlife photographers. He doesn’t enter competitions much now, though he has entered the British Wildlife Photography Competition since its inception and has been included in their exhibition every year but one. He does give lots of talks, both about wildlife and about photography.

Recognised by his peers perhaps, but not so much by his five year old daughter Skyla. When he took home an issue of Bird Watching magazine with his picture on the cover and the National Trust magazine with a pull out poster of his picture of a Harvest mouse and told her “this is daddy’s picture”, she looked at him pityingly as if to say “don’t be silly daddy, it can’t be your picture; it’s in a magazine”. When he sent her in to school with a selection of pictures of wildlife (perhaps having learned from his own childhood experience not to send the real thing) the teacher too took some convincing that these were actually his pictures.

Over the years Andy has taken many photography students from Chiswick School and encouraged them in their interest in photography by employing them as Saturday staff and teaching them about cameras. His fellow workers Frank and Cos are also photographers, so if you go in there to buy a camera, there is a huge reserve of expertise and advice available, if you want it. These days Chiswick Camera Centre does more business during the week than they do at the weekend, with all the offices there are now in Chiswick. They no longer have need of Saturday staff. Saturdays are more a day for fellow photographers to come in and have a cup of tea and a chat about photography. And of course if you want to know about wasps.

Chiswick Camera Centre is a member of The Chiswick Calendar Club Card scheme.