PBS series goes behind photographer's lens

Nature's Jounal

May 12, 2007 

The state's favorite son of photography is back in the spotlight as he roams the world for PBS' new series, "Travels to the Edge with Art Wolfe" on KCTS.

It's more than just inspiring scenery and eye-catching wildlife. Wolfe, with more than 30 years of experience, offers valuable insight into wildlife behavior and photography.

The 13-part series that begins at 8 p.m. Thursday is a mini-class in both.

One of Wolfe's techniques is to keep his mind as calm and relaxed as possible.

"I absolutely, unequivocally have seen wildlife pick up on people's energy. If you're anxious, nervous … the animal acts agitated and stressed," said Wolfe in an interview on Monday.

"If I can keep myself in a calm demeanor, moving slowly and really low to the ground, I can come amazingly close, to the point that animals almost forget I'm there."

He also uses his experience to anticipate where the animals might move next and tries to get a little ahead of them, the squat-and-wait rather than the more invasive catch-up approach.

A great shot is not simply about getting close, something he often does in partnership with a biologist.

"I'm not advocating getting as close as you can. Often the distant shots are best, and that's when the animal is at its most natural."

Why didn't Wolfe use a tripod when shooting condors? Why use the ultrawide lens on some shots? How did he get the Patagonia fox to come so close? Why did the guanacos (related to llamas) come toward a crouching Wolfe?

All will be answered in this series.

Wolfe's views of wildlife have changed over the years.

"The longer I am around the animals in their world, they get more and more of my respect. When I first started out, I was concerned with putting food on my table and having enough money for gas," Wolfe said.

"The more successful I became, like so many other people who are respected in their fields, the more I have a sense of community and a broader sense of the earth. That's environmental awareness and education. It can be about a wild animal or a vanishing culture or a threatened environment."

Wolfe paused for a moment.

"Perhaps reverence is a better choice of terms."

In the "Travels to the Edge" series, Wolfe takes viewers to Bolivia, Alaska, Patagonia, Africa, Peru, the U.S. Southwest, India and South Georgia Island, sometimes more than once.

Wolfe also is involved with the Environmental Photography Invitation Exhibit.

The winning photographs in the juried competition will hang Friday through June 30 at the Art Wolfe Gallery, 1944 First Ave. S., Seattle

(9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays).

The Last Eden

Actress Glenn Close narrates the world premiere of "Gabon: The Last Eden" at 10 p.m. Friday on National Geographic Channel. The first 10 minutes must be one of the most stunningly beautiful openings of any nature film.

The West Central African country has taken the unprecedented step to put 10 percent of the country into national parks, protecting diverse environments and wildlife while many species threatened by poachers and destruction of habitat.

Close knows when to talk and when to let the wind, waves, wings, rain and animal calls do the talking. The wildlife stars share the spotlight with several individuals who are making a huge difference in Gabon.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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