I’d been hoping for the chance to photograph Foxes for quite a while, and coming back to Bristol gave me the ideal opportunity. With one of the highest Fox population densities anywhere in the country, an hour of cycling around Bristol at the crack of dawn was all it took to find the perfect spot.
As well as the resident adults, there seem to be three largely independent cubs, and I’ve already managed to pin down one of their evening routines. I think it’s mostly been a young male Fox that I’ve been following, but I haven’t had a good look at the plumbing to confirm. For now, we’ll just call the little guy ‘he’ to make my life easier.
He turns up in more or less exactly the same spot at the same time every day, then turns the corner and slowly wanders up the next road, exploring the gardens as he goes. He seems to have an odd aversion to one side of the street and almost never crosses over, often gazing out to the other side before clearly thinking better of it and going back to snuffling along the gutter.
This young Fox is incredibly inquisitive, and he’s definitely starting to recognise me and accept my presence. If I sit still for a while, he’ll cautiously creep steadily closer until he’s within touching distance, gazing up at me with curious eyes. He’s only crossed the line once so far, when apparently the ripe smell of my shoes was deemed worthy of further investigation. We can now both confirm that they are most certainly not edible!
Sadly the little guy is already suffering from mange. It’s not yet too advanced, but he’s lost a bit of his fur and spends a huge amount of time scratching and gnawing at himself as a result of the constant irritation. Worst of all, mange is invariably fatal in wild Foxes, and most will die within four months of infection.
It’s probably a bad idea to get emotionally attached to any wild animal, especially one with such a short life expectancy. But this particular little Fox is so friendly and frankly adorable that it’s hard not to. I’m currently trying very hard not to name him.
I decided I wanted an edgy, gritty shot of a tough urban Fox, but he was far too cute for the image to work. Instead I’ve ended up with something that’s closer to a campaign photo for the vulpine equivalent of Save The Children.
Luckily all the other Foxes seem completely healthy, and while they might initially be a little more cautious around me, they still can’t resist coming to investigate anything new in their territory. The Foxes are all obviously used to people as the area has high footfall during the day anyway – one of them even stole someone’s shoe to use as a plaything a few days ago.
The relative tameness of the Fox family makes my job a lot easier and even more enjoyable. You can’t fail to smile when instead of seeing you as a threat, a Fox comes bounding over the grass towards you, all big ears, wet nose and bright eyes.
The area the Fox family inhabits happens to include a small park, which greatly increases the variety of photos I can get. They seem to spend far more time in here at night than they do around sunrise or sunset though, so even when I do get lucky, the sessions are normally short.
As the Foxes are so approachable – or at least they’re happy to approach me – the only real obstacle to getting nice portraits is the low light at the times when they’re normally active. But every now and then, everything comes together nicely.
It’s true that not everyone shares my appreciation for Red Foxes. The urban Fox is a much maligned creature, often unpopular for its scavenging antics that might involve toppling bins, tearing open rubbish bags and scattering litter. But the people who live in this area don’t seem to begrudge sharing the streets with these small ginger denizens of the night. Once they’ve realised what I’m doing, I’ve had nothing but positive reactions from the locals.
The only negative response so far has been from a bemused Ocado delivery driver who just happened to be dropping off groceries precisely where I was lying in wait shortly before 10pm. As he was clearly a little alarmed by a camera-wielding man suddenly standing up from what he’d assumed to be an empty pavement, I quickly tried to calm his nerves by informing him that I was waiting for Foxes.
This didn’t have the desired effect. Instead the visibly alarmed gentleman swiftly shut and locked the van doors as a paranoid anti-Fox precaution. Engaging the locks was probably overkill – it seems pretty unlikely that the local Foxes have recently developed opposable thumbs and the ability to manipulate door handles.
I’ve got at least two weeks left in Bristol, so I fully intend for these Foxes to become an ongoing project. The list of potential shots is pretty much endless, and the wide variety of techniques I need to use provide a constant but enjoyable challenge. Balancing motion-stopping flash with long exposure backgrounds can be tricky, but using the flash alone also opens up some interesting possibilities, so I’ve got a huge number of ideas left to explore.
You can see more Fox photos in my Red Fox gallery, and there should be plenty more on the way – if you don’t want to miss out, please use the form on the right to sign up for email updates. That way you’ll never miss a post!