Red Sea Eel, Aquarium, Aqaba, Jordan, 2011
I am not an underwater photographer – I don’t even like to swim. But in this case, I still was able to explore the various forms of life within the Red Sea by photographing in Aqaba’s aquarium. An aquarium is an extension of a zoo – only its inhabitants have fins instead of legs or wings. The rooms within this aquarium building were lined with fish tanks, brilliantly illuminated from within. I was able to bring my lens almost flush with the glass panel of the tanks, stopping the action within by using a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second. (I noticed many tourists using their flashes in the room – they forgot that glass reflects light, and their images suffered accordingly.) This eel seemed as interested in me as I was in it. Time and time again, it would swim directly towards me – here it seemed to have an expression of bewilderment on its face.
Great Egret, Botanical Garden, Belem, Brazil, 2010
This captive Great Egret was feeding at a swampy pond devoted to Amazonian waterfowl. I wanted to make this image as dramatic and lifelike as possible, so I removed all references to the enclosure by exposing for the white plumage and letting the rest of the image fall into deep shadow. I indicate only a bit of the foliage closest to the bird for context. I also made sure not to take a classic bird portrait, which would show the entire body. I allow its bill to plunge into the foliage, abstracting the bird just enough to intensify its feeding process. This is about as natural an image as a zoo environment can provide. Once again, it is very important that viewers know that this is an image of a captive creature, so images such as this one should always be accompanied by explanatory context as I offer here. Otherwise, we might be deceiving our viewers.
Photo Op, San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California, 2010
At first glance, this image defies logic – it seems as if a group of children are playing with a very a patient young elephant. Actually, the elephant is a painted plastic statue, a gathering point for family photos. I made this image of six children having their picture taken with the elephant because of the incongruous setting and the enthusiastic responses, particular from the grinning child clasping the elephants lower jaw in her hands. The image conveys pleasure, which is a basic human value. It also shows that zoo photography can go well beyond just making pictures of animals. We can also tell the story of those who get pleasure from such experiences as this.
Flamingo, San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California, 2010
There were dozens of vividly colored flamingoes on display at this zoo. Instead of photographing them en masse, I instead selected one that was busily preening its feathers. In doing so, it abstracts itself, and allows me to express the beauty of its color and the flow of its form.
Bonobo, San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California, 2010
The most popular form of zoo photography is the animal portrait. Just as in human portraiture, an animal portrait must go beyond description and instead express the character of the subject. I found a moment when this pygmy chimpanzee, also known as a Bonobo, was seemingly lost in thought, and made a tight black and white facial portrait of it through the heavy plate of glass that lines its enclosure at the zoo. It is a strikingly human expression, underscoring the close biological relationship between primates and man.
Massage, San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California, 2010
While visiting the pigmy chimpanzee enclosure at the San Diego Zoo, we met a fellow who over the years has come to know each of these remarkable animals in a very intimate way. They allow him to massage them through the heavy glass plate walls of their enclosure. This chimpanzee enthusiastically opens his arms and presses his chest to the glass to feel the rhythmic pulsations of the man’s fists. We can almost feel the energy of the massage and savor the pleasure it seems to bring to the animal. It is rare when visitors can relate to captive zoo animals in such intimate fashion, and this image takes the measure of that intimacy.
Malay Tiger, San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California, 2010
This tiger was pacing along the edge of its compound, most likely anticipating the arrival of his next meal. It was constantly swinging its head from side to side as it paced. Using a 1/40th of a second shutter speed, I intentionally moved (panned) the camera slightly in the same direction of its moving head, causing the background and legs to blur slightly, while the moving head remained still. The image pulsates with the energy of the big cat as it enters my frame from the left edge. I eliminated all references to its captivity by choosing a background free of buildings or fencing. This image looks as if it could have also been made in the wild. Yet it was not – the animal is a captive on public display, and I try here to express its fearsome power, energy, and beauty.
Same tiger, different view, San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California, 2010
We spent about twenty minutes or so working on the same tiger seen in the preceding image in this gallery. Because the zoo offers three different viewing portals, I was able to get an entirely kind of image here. It comes at us over the crest of a slope and pauses threateningly at the edge of a small gully. The image fires the imagination as it moves towards us out of deep shadow. It is at the highest point of its journey. An instant later it will turn and begin its long pace to the bottom of its compound. It seems to linger for a moment, studying my camera as if to defy my presence.
Duiker, San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California, 2010
The duiker is an antelope that lives among the trees in Sub-Saharan Africa. It spends its time among the trees in its zoo pen as well. I photograph this duiker sitting on the ground behind a palm that splits it right down the middle. Behind it rises a wall of bamboo. It seems to be yawning as it prepares for its mid-day nap. Many zoo animals spend much of their time in such positions as this – at rest. The surroundings and the yawn make this image express the nature of the beast and its tropical surroundings.
Dozing lioness, San Diego Zoo, California, 2010
This lioness, sitting in the shadows of a tree next to a huge wooden food bowl, seems to accept her captivity. The chain link fence, which contains her, stretches across the background of the image. In this case, the evidence of captivity is paramount, and becomes part of the story itself here.
Elephant barrier, San Diego Zoo, California, 2010
This zoo restrains its elephants with a series of sturdy cables. I made one of those cables the subject of this image. I imply the elephant’s presence by using a long telephoto lens and focusing on the cable itself, throwing the elephant standing just behind it into soft focus. The elephant is among the strongest animals on earth. The cable is stronger yet.