|T h e Q u i l l I n F o c u s|
On Shooting Animals...
My photographic career capturing wildlife, stretching from the swamps of the American Deep South, to the untamed barren steppes of Africa, across crystal Himalayan spires, and submerged with man-eaters along Australia's Great Barrier Reef has left me little time for human relationships. There was this one voluptuous blonde housewife years ago, back during a photo assignment to capture some covered bridges in Wisconsin. She and I had a single passionate weekend and had our mingled ashes sprinkled -
No, wait That was Clint Eastwood's character in "Bridges of Madison County". Sorry. I've never actually worked for National Geographic Magazine. Never had an affair either, though if memory serves, in my extreme youth, I had quite a few mental 'flings' with a "Geographic" image labeled, "Milk-laden, Nibutu Pygmy medicine woman".
I've managed to stumble across the occasionally serene sunset or two in my much less glorious photographic career, but the truth is, Nature, by way of the animal kingdom, keeps throwing me un-hittable 'curve-balls' and I keep striking out. It seems I can never get the little buggers to cooperate. No matter how often or how hard I try, when I point a camera in their direction, animals inevitably do one of two things. Either they choose that exact moment to display previously unequalled bouts of speed or they show me their rear.
I tell an animal to say "cheeze" and I find myself focusing on their behind. This behavior in humans, generally only found in college fraternity houses, might also be useful in 'nude' portraiture, but when one wishes to capture pets or wildlife its decidedly distracting. I think my orange tabby cat said it once, "cheetz", at my prompting, but it could have been a cross between a hairball and a sneeze. Doesn't matter because it was just after a rainstorm and in the resulting photograph he came out looking like some radioactive rodent with a twisting, used cotton-swab for a head.
But last weekend, an amazing thing happened. My wife - on whom I'VE NEVER HAD AN AFFAIR, (it bares repeating!) - pulled me away from the digital glare of my computer monitors long enough to drag me with her and my two youngest monkeys to the Atlanta Zoo. I grabbed my fully charged Minolta 7xi 5.1 megapixel cam, which meant that with conservative usage, I'd have a oh, say fifteen minutes or so of operation. (Great portable camera but no small power problem - thanks a lot, Minolta.) We cruised through downtown Atlanta and arrived in the scorching syrup which is any late afternoon in August and found ourselves with just under three hours before the park was to close. Not a problem, I thought, meaning I'd only have to lug around my thousand dollar useless camera for two hours and forty-five minutes.
But on this day, the gods of National Geographic came to me and to the animals upon whom I focused my lens. The afternoon was pure magic, shot after warm, golden shot. This is not to say I didn't capture my share of fur covered butts. As usual, there were plenty of those, but they were of such an amazing variety - size, color, shape and... well, uniquely efficient purpose - that I found my thoughts threading into their lives and habits with an almost visceral communion.
I stared and shot in wonder as these creatures, elephant, giraffe, tiger, and great Apes, familiar yet previously flat images from my childhood, inhaled my air, immense swathes of it into their cavernous lungs - their pelt, muscle, and sinew gliding as silk over ribcages expanding, contracting with a distinct and ancient rhythm. Each casual movement, each graceful, effortless gait, more alien and diverse than the most imaginative sci fi, taunted me with a complex secret language of primal instincts designed and practiced over a million years - eons of evolutional specialization and triumphant survival. It slowly dawned on me. To truly capture such majesty, my little Minolta power problem was the very least of my concerns.
It was a humbling reminder to my artist within. With all the sophistication, with all of my digital magic, I can but tell a story, removing myself only so far from the original cave painters of Lascaux. To live a story, to give, to need, to love, and to occasionally display my rear-end is the true stuff of life. It's the paramount source sustaining and evolving the creative energies which drive me.
There IS a notable exception to this idea of the prominence of action above art. In my humble and admittedly biased opinion, the exception would be for those "sportsmen" inclined to the alternate meaning for the title of this article, "On Shooting Animals...". In this spirit, allow me to offer a totally TRUE and UNEDITED copy of a brief email exchange between myself and a decidedly adventurous peer from my distant High School era. He'd always disliked me, with good reason, in as much as I was something of a "smart-a-leck" even in those days. I remembered him fondly, because twenty-two years ago, he'd delivered a truly memorable beating to me, somewhat unique in my analog of life and growth experiences. Truth is he's a very decent guy who just - never came to appreciate my art, you might say.
Our paths crossed by accident on the internet last year. Different worlds, now a lifetime removed, I ventured a polite email, asking how he'd been - what he'd been up to? His interesting reply and then mine, were as follows;
Sent Dec 01, 2002
In short back when I was in College I started a little installation company and let a couple guys run it when I was playing Army. Today it is probably one of the top five Custom Installation companies in the state. Currently I have a 7 and 5 year old little girls that run the household. The bigest event in the past 15 years has been my 5 Years I spent in Alaska. Climbed mountains over 14,000 ft, hunted Caribo across the Artic Circle, Killed a Grizzly bear in hand to hand combat, and got caught in a avalanche and lived to tell, traped and traded wild wolves, walked on glaciers and fished glacier fed rivers. Alaska truely is heaven and hopefully oneday move back to resume my mountain man lifestyle. I served my country for 12 years with blood being drawn on both sides, until it came time to get out or go to jail, so I got out and got back to business. Rick
>>Reply sent Dec 01, 2002
In MY first letter, I debated sending you a picture of a crippled wild possum me and some friends finally cornered with a trash can up at Lake Allatoona... But, I didn't want to intimidate you. We chased that little son of b' 'round the empty parking lot for five hours... Finally nailed her, but - well, honesty compels me to admit she may have been a 'tad' narcoleptic...
Your descriptions sound like exceptionally vivid sets of experiences, dude. I flew through Adak once on my way to Lilliputu, Japan. Even those mountains seemed surreal. I'd like to get there myself one day. "Put a cap-on" some damn yippie little wolf-cubs, or a grizzly or two. Say Rick, maybe you can answer a lingering mystery for me...
~Is it true Alaskan Caribou tastes just like chicken?
We never did "talk later", though I was to hear from him one last time, after several months completely out of the blue. It was a very short email and like my beating so long ago, richly deserved...
>Sent Feb. 07, 2003