Every year, millions of monarch butterflies make a journey like no other, migrating 4,000km from Canada to Mexico to escape the harsh North America winter. It was only in 1976 that scientists recognised this remarkable natural phenomenon, but today the butterflies are under threat, their habitats destroyed by illegal logging and intensive agriculture. "It's incredible," says Canon Ambassador Pascal Maitre, who spent a week in January 2019 photographing the creatures. "The butterflies normally live for five weeks, but as the summer ends they produce a new generation that can live for eight months, so they can travel all the way to Mexico and back."
Pascal's shoot began life as a commission for the Yves Rocher Foundation, which runs reforestation programmes and butterfly sanctuaries in Michoacán, Mexico, where the butterflies land. "It wasn't a typical corporate story. They wanted me to show not just what they do but the benefits of what they do," says Pascal of the project, which was intended for exhibition at Festival Photo La Gacilly in Brittany, France, but this was postponed twice because of Covid-19 restrictions. Before departing for the shoot, Pascal mentioned the commission to Le Figaro Magazine, who sent a writer along for a few days of his trip. The feature was finally published in the magazine in June 2021. This was partly a consequence of the exhibition delay, but it's also common in magazine publishing. "It often happens that there's a long time between shooting and publication," says Pascal. "With National Geographic, for example, it can be one or two years."