NINE-times among the winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition, “Yogi”, as he’s known, started as an industrial photographer in Munich, purchasing his first underwater camera, even before learning to dive in Germany’s cold lakes. By the mid-1990s he found his sea-change and on assignment in the Philippines, met future wife Stella and won the prestigious 1999 World Press Photo Award for Photojournalism for his image of a whale shark hunt in Bohol.
In 2009 they joined WWF for 18 months to live among the people and nature of the Coral Triangle so the world could start to see their stories and appreciate the urgent need for its protection - these are the very places they are now taking you back to so they can share the experience once more. With a heart for nature and a love of narrative Juergen continues to devote himself to conservation and is today honoured as one of very few Senior Fellows of the International League of Conservation Photographers.
Every image is somehow beautiful in its own way, and it is the Freunds’ hope that a message of urgency can be communicated along with a message of hope. “We look in the face of destruction, and feel an overwhelming sadness,” Stella says. “But it’s our zeal to create pictures that can make a difference that keeps us going.”
“Our marriage works because Yogi and I have the same values ... we love all living things—insect, plants, fish, marine mammals. We have full respect for nature. My working background was also in perfect sync with his job as a nature photographer. So we can survive being together all the time, and never be bored with each other. After nine years of marriage, it’s been the same from day one.”
It was in 1999 that Stella and Yogi met; she was 34, and he was 39. He was already a widely published nature photographer, and she was a freelance producer tasked with buying some of his photographs for an environmental campaign for a big Filipino company. Yogi relocated to Manila in December of 1999, and they were married in Germany in 2000.
“We decided it was mutually beneficial for us to work together,” says Stella, who often speaks for the two of them. “We genuinely like each other's company, and never stop talking about anything and everything!” The two complement each other perfectly, virtually reading each other’s minds and gestures, whether they’re clambering up rocks to get a good view, setting up an underwater picture (with Yogi directing and Stella posing, or getting other people in the picture to pose), or deciding where to get a good dinner and Yogi’s mandatory beer in a small town in the middle of nowhere. “Our marriage works because Yogi and I have the same values,” Stella says. “We love all living things—insect, plants, fish, marine mammals. We have full respect for nature. My working background was also in perfect sync with his job as a nature photographer. So we can survive being together all the time, and never be bored with each other. After nine years of marriage, it’s been the same from day one.”
In 2003, in search of more wildlife to photograph, they immigrated from Manila to Cairns, Australia, which they now call home. Since then, they have been published in several environmental magazines in Asia as well as Europe. From this home base, they can easily load their van with supplies and equipment, and go on the road for weeks, shooting snakes, crocodiles, insects, or whales, among their many assignments. “We are light on our feet, and we like to be low-key and somehow disappear into the scene to let the scene unfold,” Stella says. “After all, it’s what’s real that makes the best and most beautiful pictures.”