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“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera.  You bring to the act of photography to all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” 

Ansel Adams (1874 - 1963)

About Oliver Stainer

About the Photographer

Born in South African, I have always enjoyed being outdoors. As a boy, my passion for nature was encouraged by my parents. My grandfather was an enthusiastic ornithologist, and my father and older brother followed in his footsteps. I have several early memories of wild adventures, not just around South Africa, but also of my father taking us into Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. A memory of a camping trip on mokoros (African dugout canoes) traveling deep into the Okavango Delta looking for The Pel's Fishing Owl. And another, lying in a tent in a forest in North-Eastern Zimbabwe, listening to the rhythmic beat of African drums late into the night.

Searching for the Pel's Fishing Owl with my father and older brother in the Okavango Delta

Most of my childhood holidays were spent on the Natal South Coast just south of Durban, enjoying the beach. The coastline is defined by black-grey granite rocks separating long and pristine off-white sandy beaches. We swam in the warm Indian Ocean and enjoyed the surf and swell. We watched Vervet Monkeys play in the trees above our cottage and kept our eyes open for Green Mambas – a bright green and deadly venomous South African snake.

Left: As a child the family would spend most holidays at Oslo Beach
Right: The Banana Express steam train would pass right by our beach cottage 

​I went to boarding school in the Natal Midlands in the shadow of the dramatic Drakensberg mountains. My parents would take me out of school for weekend leave and we would stay at one of the Natal Parks nature reserves, or at a B&B in and around the Natal Midlands. The setting was rural with the nearest major town, Pietermaritzburg, 45min drive away. 
Back when I was at school in the 90s, many of the old traditions had not changed from when the school was founded in the 1800s. There was still a system where juniors were assigned to prefects. This meant making their beds, carrying laundry and lighting the coal fires in the classrooms in the winter. Being initiated into the school involved early morning runs, cold showers and dorm raids, where a schoolhouse would ‘raid’ another schoolhouse armed with boots wrapped in towels, buried deep in pillowcases.  When one boy fractured his jaw, these raids were stopped. Blood noses and black eyes were as commonplace both on the rugby fields as in the dormitories.
I took up sailing in the summer and played rugby in the winter. I enjoyed sailing and received my Natal School Colours in my final year. Aside from dingy sailing and rugby, school also encouraged me to have an interest in nature. Free-bounds was a concept where we had to leave the school on a Sunday and under our own initiative explore the local countryside. Most students just sat outside the gates smoking but the more adventurous of us went walking and cycling through the local farming communities. 

Left: Second year of primary school, Johannesburg. I'm in the middle.

Right: First year of boarding school building a steam car, balgowan, Natal.

University was back in Johannesburg, where my father managed an earthworks and demolition company. Johannesburg is a city thriving with culture and diversity but also struggling with a complex social structure. I enjoyed university, and completed two degrees, but during this time there were also opportunities to explore more of South Africa. A friend of mine had access to a game farm in the Low Veldt in northern South Africa. This was safari territory and the wide-open spaces of the African savannah teaming with lions, elephant and rhino.
I had been to the bush – South African for safari – when I was young, as my family would often holiday to the Kruger Park, but my friend's farm was special. A place to experience true wild Africa. Evenings were spent round an African hard wood log fire listening to the calls of the wild, including hyena, wild dog, and of course, lion. I also had another friend with a farm in the Free State where we would ride horses and hike. Through these wonderful experiences I grew to love the wilderness of Southern Africa and the diverse people within it. 

Left: On safari (or in the bush as us South Africans say)

Right: Graduation from the University of the Witwatersrand.

My father is British, born in Sherborne, England. Where my mother gave me my African heritage, my father introduced me to the English countryside, a place I have grown to love. We would go on trips every two to three years back to Sherborne, the town he grew up in rural Dorset. A place of beauty not far from where I live today. English hedgerows enclose lush green farmers' fields with dairy cattle and sheep. Deciduous forests of oak, birch, hazel, beach and yew, encircle castles. Traditional English towns and villages are crisscrossed by public footpaths leading to fields of bluebells, blackberry bushes and foxgloves. 

After university I moved to London and worked as a stockbroker on the trading desks then moved into equity research before progressing to an investment manager. My time in London was a balance between long hours of hard work and playtime in and out of the local pubs, bars and restaurants. I love London and still spend time in the city when I can. However, the defining moment of this period of my life was not so much London but rather the time I took out of my career and backpacked across Asia. I travelled from Finland, through Russia and Mongolia, across China and down through Southeast Asia, before visiting Australia and India. 

Backpacking Asia in 2004 and 2005 with my trusty Nikon D70 digital camera 

The time I spent on the road – on and off trains, busses, boats, rickshaws, tuk tuks, motodops and even trucks – opened my eyes to the rest of the world. I travelled on the Trans-Siberian Express across Siberia, stayed as a guest of Buddhist monks in Labrang Monastery, and even rode an old Minsk motorbike down through Vietnam. I travelled on an illegal logging train in rural Cambodia, partied my way across Loas and Thailand, and visited the wild and wonderful Indian religious city of Varanasi.

Air conditioning!

I crossed Cambodia on the roof of a train and traveled part of the way up through Laos on the roof of a bus. Much more comfortable than the packed interior.

The Orient is a place of true beauty, mad colour, and awe-inspiring culture and religion. I will never forget camping on a remote island off Vietnam or riding my motorbike through tropical jungles along the Ho Chi Min Road. It was these years of travelling both Asia and Europe that really cemented my love for photography. Several my photos on my Travel Page are from these trips, taken on an old Nikon D70 digital camera. 

My Russian Minsk motorcycle I rode across Vietnam

I still dream of travelling and I’m very fortunate as my job takes me back to South Africa at least three times a year. In the last decade my work has allowed me to travel South Africa more than I ever did as a child, meeting with clients and business partners from Rustenburg to Cape Town, from Durban to the Karoo. I've always been passionate about my work and my current role has also allowed me to experience and – to some degree – live in two countries, on two continents. I have been given the chance to reconnect with the country again, rediscover the amazing natural wonders of South Africa, and better understand how diverse the people of South Africa are. It has also given me the opportunity to introduce my wife to the country. We got engaged on Table Mountain and my eldest son was christened in Johannesburg.

Left: With our eldest son 

Right: My wife with our youngest son

In 2015 we left London and moved to a village just outside of the medieval cathedral city of Salisbury. It enabled us to start our family in one of the most beautiful areas of England. We live in a very rural village, surrounded by forests, arable farmlands and not that far from the coast. The New Forest is a 15min drive, the Solent 25min, the South Downs 35min and the Jurassic Coast 45min. We spend most weekends in Bentley Wood walking, building forts, and cycling. When I get the chance – between work and being dad – I love taking photographs. I also enjoy archery and either trout fishing the Avon or sea fishing the coast of Dorset. We travel as much as we can as a family and love camping. Hopefully, my two boys will have the same passion for the outdoors and nature as I do. And maybe, when they are older, I can introduce them to photography.

my two boys

My website was born out of the frustration of being in lockdown through 2020 and 2021. I needed something to rekindle my passion for creating so I bought a camera – I haven’t picked up a camera since my year out travelling in over a decade – and set up my website to share my photographic journey with family and friends. 

Hopefully you will enjoy looking through these pages as much as I’ve enjoyed creating them.

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