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Self-portrait of Thomas Dressler in the Kalahari desert, in 2020. SUR
The German who swapped tourists in Marbella for lions in Africa
In the frame

The German who swapped tourists in Marbella for lions in Africa

In his youth Thomas Dressler worked as a tourist guide on the Costa del Sol but a trip to Kenya led him to make a living from photography

David Lerma

Marbella

Thursday, 28 March 2024, 15:52

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Photographer and naturalist Thomas Dressler (67) was born in a small town south of Frankfurt but four decades ago he came to live in Marbella. It was a move closer to the African continent he has constantly explored with a camera on his shoulder and his images have been published by such reputable media outlets as National Geographic, Geo or BBC Wildlife. Although he is considered an agency photographer, Thomas has published several books on photography, among them one dedicated to the white villages of Andalucía.

As a young man he worked as a tourist guide in different countries, including Spain, but soon wanted to quit. During a holiday to Kenya that lasted almost three months, he discovered what he wanted to do: be in Africa.

"I was going round the continent and looking for a way to earn a living. Photography then seemed to me the most accessible option. I'm totally self-taught. I was lucky to have friends in Germany, amateur photographers, who had contacts in some agencies, and that was how I took this path," he explains. "It turned out well for me, and here I am," he adds.

Landscapes

"I rented a car, a Suzuki. I didn't have much money and I dedicated myself to travelling solo with my camera through Kenya and Tanzania for the first few years. I would only photograph animals. I needed to create a big archive to be able to earn money. Years later I would go to the south of Africa, to Namibia, with its incredible landscapes, its desert and its people, as well as its urban areas. There I realised that I couldn't only live off giraffes and elephants," he points out, sitting on a terrace in the centre of Marbella, where he lives between his travels.

Zambia, Botswana or South Africa, but also Morocco, the south of the US or Cuba, are already part of his meticulous and admiring work towards nature.

"I love animals. It's what I like most. You have to have patience, knowledge of species' habits, and a bit of luck as well." Dressler doesn't always work with telephoto lenses, but likes to capture the scene, getting as close as possible and take a wide-angled, clichéd shot to highlight the surrounding landscape, which is always in colour.

"That was what the agencies needed, and in order to not get sidetracked, I developed my own slides. That took me a lot of time," he acknowledges. "I like deserts, but not the jungle. I like the solitude I find in Africa when I look at its open spaces. It's like the beauty of Extremadura," a region that fascinates him, or the mines of Riotinto, which he will visit again in April, given the artistic possibilities they offer him.

Exposed to danger

He acknowledges that he has been exposed to "potential danger in Africa" due to his curiosity and close proximity to wildlife. "Many times I've woken up in the morning and seen lion tracks next to my tent. On one occasion I woke up with a sense of imminent threat. There was a pride on the other side of the fabric. They don't recognise the material, and so they don't usually enter. A wild lion won't hesitate to attack you if you get out of the car," he explains. "I've also had problems with elephants, but fortunately everything turned out all right," he laughs.

He admits that photography has changed a lot. "In 2005, I went digital. I was one of the last to do so. When there are big changes, I usually wait. But it was inevitable."

He accepts the advantages of working without photo development and the low cost of making a photograph nowadays. For the past three years, moreover, he has photographed Andalucía with his drone.

"I've always searched for air, heights, and the drone simplifies things a lot. I've taken photos in a small plane, helicopter, hot-air balloon... Now it's a lot more attainable," he points out while showing images of the greenhouses in El Ejido or the coastal wetlands, a project that is yet to be finished.

Marbella was his last destination before leaving his job as a tourist guide. "There I met my wife, who is Italian, who also worked as a tourist guide. I didn't want to go back to Germany, nor she to Italy, so here we are. I liked Marbella more before. It's true that it's become very big, but it doesn't have the elements of a big city. I like the type of people who come less and less. The style has changed. I prefer to go to Tarifa, to the coast of Cadiz, to relax."

He acknowledges that he has few photos of himself. The one which accompanies this text, he took in the Kalahari desert.

"I was near a bored lion and then I saw myself in the mirror and said: 'Wow, I'm handsome'," he says sarcastically.

"What do I think of Andalusians? You're the best," he says, without hesitation and with great admiration.

"I feel more Andalusian than German," he acknowledges, fully integrated, unlike many of his compatriots. "This is my home," the photographer concludes.

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