Alfie Bowen, from Beccles, picked up a camera at 15 and discovered it helped him to cope with autism. A decade later he’s publishing his second book of animal images, this time featuring the wild horses of East Anglia and other places

It's 2022, and Alfie Bowen is looking for a new project. Alfie, from Beccles, has already launched his career as a photographer and wildlife activist, releasing Wild World, an art book of his astonishing, evocative images of animals, from lions to lemurs, flamingos to koi fish.

Alfie is no ordinary photographer. He took up photography in 2014, when it soon became an escape for him from his teenage experiences of autism and bullying. The camera, he discovered, had the power to remove him out from some dark places – he even credits photography with saving his life. Now he uses his extraordinary talent – he won the Zoological Society of East Anglia Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2016 – to raise awareness of the plight facing many animal species across the world, and to increase acceptance and understanding of autism.

Great British Life: At One With The EarthAt One With The Earth (Image: Alfie Bowen)

His latest project is Wild Horses, a two-year project photographing wild horses across the United Kingdom – in the fields of Suffolk, the mountains of North Wales and among the trees of the New Forest.

'I wanted to photograph something completely different to anything I’d done before, a fresh species and a fresh journey of exploration,' he says. 'Horses felt like an interesting subject to explore because of my previous experiences with them. Each summer, when we were growing up, we would ride them, or walk around equine rescue centres.

'Then, when I hit some big bumps in the road during my time in education, I was moved to a part-time timetable and would spend a day each week at an equine therapy centre. Wednesdays quickly became the highlight of my week, it was so incredibly relaxing to just spend time in the company of the ponies. Every time life has taken me off track, animals have comforted me, and horses have been a big part of that.'

Great British Life: In Fields of FlowersIn Fields of Flowers (Image: Alfie Bowen)

Witnessing the animals thriving in such varied and raw environments has been incredible, says Alfie. 'I've been so lucky to share many of the shoots with my partner, Daisy, and to have been joined on some shoots by family and friends.

'There have been plenty of shoots where I have left with nothing in the bag, but that's part of the game and there's never been a time over the last 24 months when I haven’t left a shoot feeling relaxed, and touched by the strength of the bond between horses.' In many ways, says Alfie, it's been great therapy for him as well as a photographic project.

'My message to everyone is to get out into nature, surround yourself with the wonderful flora and fauna that we share our planet with; feel the sunshine on your back and the wind blowing through your hair – it can transform you.'

Great British Life: Peek-a-booPeek-a-boo (Image: Alfie Bowen)

While coping with autism has been an ongoing struggle, ironically Alfie believes it has also benefited him; he brings meticulous attention to detail to his photography, as well as emotional connection and a determination to get the shot. Photographing horses in their natural, wild environments provided a new challenge for Alfie. 'It certainly pushed me in every aspect of what I do, technically, artistically and emotionally. There are tight, powerful portraits, which I guess has become my signature style over the years, but as we passed through the project it became a case of trying to convey that emotion and personality, whilst also trying to include the horses' incredible surroundings. I think I've evolved as the project has.'

It’s the first long-term project Alfie has undertaken focusing solely on one animal, and he says for every photograph he got he returned home to sketch out ideas for another four or five images.

'I wanted to show as many aspects of their lives as I could, I wanted to do justice to such a beautiful creature.' Just as with Wild World, Alfie established a connection of sorts with the horses.

Great British Life: SpiritSpirit (Image: Alfie Bowen)

'It opened up a lot of old wounds, a lot of memories of those darker days during my time in education, and I guess that emotional energy fuelled a great deal of the project,' he says.' I think we could certainly learn a thing or two from observing a herd of horses – there is little room for anything other than love, protection and loyalty.'

He quotes the American landscape photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams: 'You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.' 'That definitely applies to this project,' says Alfie. 'I have given everything to it.'

After a decade of photography, Alfie says is has be come his therapy. 'There is no greater escape for me than to roam amongst nature with a camera around my neck, or to sit at my desk dreaming up and sketching out potential photographs. The camera has become a great outlet for my emotional energy, a voice in many ways, and my subject, nature, has become the greatest healer.

Great British Life: The ClimbThe Climb (Image: Alfie Bowen)

'I always want to become better at what I do and I always believe that my best work is ahead of me, otherwise what’s the point in carrying on? I think I’m hungrier than ever to create. I’ve definitely become better at letting things go that are out of my control; I’ve learnt that you can do as much research as you want before a shoot, but it doesn’t mean the weather will be as you expect, or that the animal will appear when you need it to.

'I'm just as tough on my work as I have always been, but I'm kinder to myself when the things I can’t control don’t go my way.' The journey has pushed him to develop as a person, he says. 'I've become much better socially. I wanted to visit schools and inspire the next generation, and to do that I had to be able to stand up and talk in front of smaller groups, something I once found very difficult. I become better at travelling, at working to deadlines and at letting myself enjoy the process of working on projects.'

His inspiration, he says, are his mother, grandparents and his partner, Daisy, the animals he is lucky enough to spend time with and photograph, and photographers and authors such as Ansel Adams, and Henry David Thoreau, American naturalist, essayist, poet and philosopher.

Great British Life: Lady of the LakeLady of the Lake (Image: Alfie Bowen)

'I'm a big believer in his (Adams') thought that the camera is only a tool, much like the paintbrush is, and that so much of the person behind the camera can be seen in the resulting photograph.' Some of his work is also inspired by American photographer Edward Curtis. 'His use of landscapes was incredible, and a great help when I grappled with how to capture both the emotion and personality of the horse, as well as the landscape in which they thrive.'

Naturalist, nature photographer and TV presenter Chris Packham is another source of inspiration. 'He's been a life-long hero of mine. He was the first famous autistic person I knew growing up and seeing him on TV made it all feel a little less lonely. It is a huge honour that he has now written the foreword to both of my books. We've spent several hours in each other's company, sharing thoughts and photographs.'

Who knows what the next decade holds for Alfie as a photographer. He is brimming with ideas and there are species that he still wants to 'tick off my list'. He has a life-long dream to visit Africa where he could photograph gorillas. He works closely with World Wide Fund for Nature and is proud to be an ambassador for Clinks Care Farm at Beccles, as well as Big Blue Ocean Cleanup and Young Bird Photographer of the Year.

Great British Life: Dream Bigger Dream Bigger (Image: Alfie Bowen)

'Over the last year or two I've been giving talks to young autistic students, and I hope the next 10 years will allow me to touch many more lives. I want to change the world for those with autism.'

Wild Horses is published by ACC Art Books 

You can see more of Alfie Bowen's work at