Author Archive

Strange Days & Upcoming Exhibition

Dear readers,

please excuse the long silence. My life has recently been full of work and taken a few unexpected turns, which have kept my priorities focused on other things than updating my blog. Among other developments I now once again live in my native town of Freiburg, Germany, something I would not have considered possible as recently as three months ago. The city and its inhabitants have treated me very nicely so far, however, so I expect to stick around for a while and explore Europe some more. There are also a few things worth mentioning regarding my photography:

To begin with there are some excellent news: I was contacted by the German-American center in Stuttgart last week. They want to exhibit my Alaska images. The exhibit will open June 14 2012 and I will give a talk on my travels through Alaska on opening night, and show some slides. I also plan to switch a few of the images exhibitied three years ago in Freiburg, take out one or two I don’t like anymore and add one or two new ones from a short trip through Alaska’s panhandle last year and possibly include a few from my 2008 trip I overlooked last time.

In other news: I booked a last minute (!) trip to Turkey, something I have never done before (but figured I should do once in my life as a self experiment), and will fly there tomorrow morning. I expect German tourists and sociological oddities. Fortunately I also booked a car, so I can escape from the holiday ghetto I am spending my nights in. I will post images if I get anything worth sharing with the world. I am excited since I have never been to Turkey before, but a bit worried about my vegan food options.

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Great Bear Rainforest

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit the Great Bear Rainforest. The GBR, originally known as one of the most special places in British Columbia and home to the illusive spirit bear, one of the major photographic goals of my trip, sadly has recently become a place which has received less positive media exposure as the object of desire of Alberta’s Enbridge company which is planning to end its Northern Gateway oil pipeline in Kitimat, just outside the Great Bear Rainforest. As if this was not bad news enough in itself, considering Enbridge’s record of leaky pipelines and a general tendency towards hubris in our species, Enbridge furthermore plans to send super tankers down the coast, a body of water which has a reputation of being exposed to really severe weather conditions and is difficult enough to maneuver even in favorable conditions. The idea behind all this is to open the Asian markets for Canada’s tar sands, which in themselves are another major environmental concern. Staying with the topic of having around 225 oil tankers a year cruise up and down a rough body of water along a pristine ecosystem, however, I do not believe that it takes a genius to figure out that this is calling for trouble (besides continuing the great Canadian tradition of trampling Native land claims under foot) – trouble that could easily reach the proportions of the Exxon Valdez catastrophe in the late 1980s when one of the ships runs on ground as it is bound to sooner or later. If you are as concerned about this as I am, Pacific Wild’s website might be a good place to start, but there are literally dozens of other groups opposing this madness, offering petitions to sign etc.
Now to my trip, though. It would be an understatement to say that the trip exceeded my expectations. Among the highlights were the chance to see and photograph spirit bears (initially a somewhat hyperreal experience considering how much I had read and image-searched earlier, but eventually a very special moment), see four humpbacks breaching almost in perfect synchronicity literally 30 or 40 meters from our boat, photographing coastal wolves (though from afar), seeing and photographing my first pine marten, and finally witnessing one of the most obscenely gorgeous photographic scenes I had ever seen: grizzlies in front of a rain forest scene with the early morning sun burning away the fog; a scene so perfect one could not have improved it with a brush and canvas – oh, and did I mention the two eagles sitting in the tree to the left?
Anyway, I will be silent so you can have a look at my images. There are more images from the trip on my website.

A bald eagle taking off.

Curious pine marten.

Black Bear on Gribbell Island.

My first spirit bear. Spirit (or Kermode) bears are black bears who carry a recessive allele that gives some of them white fur. There are only a couple white hundred individuals, most of them around Princess Royal Island.

Breaching Humpback Whale.

Grizzly Bear in the Great Bear Rainforest.

The first (and possibly last) arboreal seal I have ever seen.

Coastal Wolf in Rescue Bay. These wolves fish for salmon along the creeks and are pretty damn elusive. This image was taken with my 500 mm lens, but nevertheless turned out to be more of an animal scape.

Critter Care

As mentioned in my last post I joined the lovely people of The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals for their visit to Critter Care earlier this month. Critter Care is the only shelter in the Lower Mainland devoted exclusively to fur-bearing animals and so seems to be a natural partner for the Fur-Bearer Defenders. Luckily they wanted some decent images of the animals to promote their fund-raising for Critter Care so this is where I came in.
The shelter is, not surprisingly, a shelter. While they keep their cages as close to a natural environment as possible their room and resources are very limited and they have a lot of animals to take care of. While all the animals are well-loved and -cared for, the logistics make it very hard to take ‘wild’ looking images of the animals. It might be possible if I were to spend long stretches of time with the animals and make them comfortable with my presence, as I tend to when photographing in the wild. But this of course runs contrary to the idea behind the shelter. They want to rear animals that can be released into the wild and will not end up in people’s backyards after a week, because they are too comfortable around humans which is the reason they try minimize contact with different humans. There was nothing to do but to compromise my photography in the interest of the animals (which I was happy to do of course, wildlife photography should be about the animals, not the photographer’s ego). To make matters even more challenging, however, a lot of the animals were so small they were not yet released to their outside cages but fed inside the main office. As a result I decided to focus on images of human-animal interaction, since I felt that these would be the best images I could get in the limited time I had.
Whatever the photographic possibilities and challenges, however, seeing baby animals is good for the heart; it is nowhere as good as seeing a wild animal (I am still a wildlife photographer with all my heart – more on that in the next post), but, hey, a baby otter peed on my sweater and I pride myself that there are not many people who have had that experience – not even among wildlife photographers.
Below is a slideshow of some of the better images from Critter Care. A few might end up in the Fur-Bearer Defenders’ next newsletter if they like them (I am meeting executive director Lesley Fox later today), so keep your eyes open if you are a member, if not become one NOW :). Quite obviously all photos are of ‘captive’ animals.

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The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals / A chance to use my photos for animals

Kessi and I went to a meeting of The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals last Saturday and were impressed enough with their work and professionalism to join the Association on the spot, and to sign up to volunteer at one of their info tables, at the EPIC tomorrow, in fact.

Furthermore folks at the Association are in desperate need of a wildlife photographer (well, I might be exaggerating a bit), and seem really interested in using some of my images (which I will be donating) for their newsletters, campaigns to ban trapping for fur, the trapping of so called “nuisance animals” like beavers and coyotes and so on. I might also get a chance to sell some prints at their info tables, in which case I would of course donate some of the profits.

What is even more exciting, is that it looks as if I will be joining the Fur-Bearer Defender staff on their visit to a shelter for orphaned and hurt North American animals in early June, Critter Care in Langley. The shelter is not usually open to the public and this sounds like a great chance to get images of some rare and / or small animals I might not easily get to photograph in an ethical setup, i.e. not a zoo or one of those despicable game farms that some so called wildlife photographers chose to support.

I hope I will manage to take some good photos, from what I have seen of Critter Care so far the shelters were not exactly set up with photography in mind. I will keep you posted once I get results.

So as not to upload another post without images here are a few images of fur-bearing animals and some background on how they are affected by trapping and hunting, the list is of course much longer and I won’t even go into the issue of fur farms, not today anyhow:

Beaver, Alaska

Communities like to trap and kill beavers as they see them as “nuisance animals,” at least when the little guys have the temerity of establishing their home base next to people’s houses. While it is true that beavers occasionally cause flooding, they are extremely predictable in their habits and there are a number of cheap, non-lethal alternatives such as pond levelers and Beaver Deceivers (I just love the name) to ensure that people and beavers can happily coexist.
Furthermore scientists are beginning to understand that beavers have a positive impact on the environment, e.g. by re-naturalizing rivers and thus providing salmon habitat.

Coyote, Alberta

Don’t ask me why but coyotes, too, have a really bad rep throughout North America. Maybe it has to do with the fact that most people can’t tell coyotes and wolves apart, and that wolves have been leading actors in way too many scary stories. Considering the love most folks have for dogs their neglect or hate for wolves and coyotes strikes me as extremely irrational, especially when one sees how closely wolves, coyotes and dogs are related.
Anyway, communities and other undereducated members of the public like to trap, shoot, maim and kill coyotes for various reasons. On top of that the RCMP has apparently recently added coyote fur trim to some of their winter jackets in addition to the muskrat fur they use for their caps. Great job, Constable Fraser and company!

Remember those silly black hats the guards outside Buckingham Palace wear? Unbelievably they are still made out of Canadian black bear fur, one bear per hat. Talk about unnecessary cruelty …
Having spent quite a bit of time with these magnificent animals in the wild this is one point that particularly riles me. It is just as bad as those pathetic cowardly $#%& who want to reaffirm their manhood by shooting defenseless bears (did someone say Sarah Palin) – which of course is also still legal in BC…

Website Update (Costa Rica 3)

Being, as always, a last minute person I have uploaded some new images of Costa Rica literally minutes before leaving for the airport to fly to Texas.
Check out the Recent work folder on my website, and stay tuned for some images from Big Bend National Park in the near future.

Birds of Costa Rica

While I try to work on myself with all the birding oportunities around Vancouver, I usually am not much of a bird photographer. To get decent images of birds too often you have to sit in a stuffy blind for long stretches of time and attract the birds with food and a perch – overall not my ideal of nature photography, I’d rather document what I encounter than set things up. On top of that, the best locations will often be on land you have no right to set up a hide on. Lastly, and most importantly I simply do not feel the emotional connection I feel when photographing mammals who often know I am there, but chose to ignore me, or sometimes even landscapes in great light. To me many birds look pretty, but they just don’t do very interesting things most of the time. Maybe I am ignorant, but I will take a bear over a bird any day.
Don’t get me wrong, I like some birds. Owls for instance are really cool and I would go out of my way to photograph them, bald eagles certainly have their attraction, puffins and cranes are pretty cool, too, but ducks and small brown song birds – I don’t know… As I said, I try to work on myself, so maybe I will learn to appreciate even the small brown ones yet. Costa Rica, I am happy to report, sems a better place than most for the aspiring bird lover. It is one of those locations where even an ignoramus like myself cannot help but enjoy the diversity and color of the birds. On top of that many of them thankfully are not too tiny, but they are still damn hard to find in the jungle. In a few lodges they put out food so the lazy potographer has the luxury of having the birds come to him (or her) during breakfast rather than stalking through the rainforest with those little buggers flying off each time you are set up (another benefit of mammals – most simply can’t fly away).
Below are a few images of the various birds we saw and photographed so far. I hope you enjoy the images. As always feel free to comment and explain the wonders of birding to me, yell at me for my ignorance or write whatever else you wish to let me or the world know (ideally it would have some sort of relation to this post ;))!

Black-cheeked woodpecker getting set up to peck some wood

Keel-billed toucan

Romantic birds (I should really get a bird guide to use proper names)

Brown-hooded parrot

Bird in the rain (did I mention I should get a bird guide - it's those small brownish ones again, I told you)

Chestnut-mandibled toucan enjoying a banana

Brown Pelicans

Bare-throated tiger heron trying to camouflage itself (it failed - I found it)

Turquoise-browed Motmot in the jungle

A lesson in ecology

One of the great things about photographing the natural world and spending as much time outdoors as it takes to get good photos is that you always see something new – and quite frequently something curious. Granted, you also sometimes see such things right in front of your door, but it helps to be looking.
At our current hotel we have this slightly demented (or overly intelligent?) bird that apparently tries to figure out either cars or windows. Today it was at it for at least fifteen minutes. It repeatedly flew back and forth between our car and the one adjacent to it, sat on the door and knocked against the window with its beak, apparently trying to see if it could get inside without hurting itself (it later tried the same with the windshield). It has been playing that game at least since the day before yesterday, when we first observed this strange behavior. I really wonder what that bird is up to. My feeling is that it is interest in driving lessons, but it is most likely underage.

Anyway, another more peculiar thing happened two days ago just outside the Monteverde cloud forest. We saw a Bushy-Tailed Olingo:

Olingo sitting in a tree (where it belongs)

Onlingos, I am told, are nocturnal animals. They are also carnivores (which I don’t doubt since they are pretty mean-looking critters) and they live in trees. The chances to see one, I assumed prior to our meeting, are pretty slim. Not so at a cafe called the Hummingbird Gallery, however. The cafe gains its name because they have a number of hummingbird feeders, which not surprisingly attract dozens hummingbirds.

Hummingbird at Feeder

Much more surprising, they apparently also attract olingos or at least one olingo. That nifty little bastards has found a way to do a tighrope walk to reach the feeders which are suspended from wires hung between trees. The idea being this setup is quite obviously to keep other animal from reaching them. Well, not so when this particular olingo is present, as you can see:

Olingo tightroping it

Olingo emptying hummingbird feeder

… and those guys are not easily discouraged either, some people tried to chase them off for quite a while to no avail. No wonder the poor hummingbirds can only sit and watch in disgruntlement:

Disgruntled hummingbird

The moral of the story, in case you are wondering, is the complexity of nature and animal behavior. It is astonishing how easily human action, in this case hanging up a hummingbird feeder, can bring forth unforseen consequences and impact the environment, turning in this case a nocturnal (probably naturally shy) animal into one walking around in the middle of the day between hordes of tourists. And a dignified carnivore into a sugar water-slurping junk food addict.

Off to Costa Rica

I had hoped to have time to do another blog post before this one, but, as they say, time flies and there were so many things to be taken care of that it’s already early February and we’re off to Costa Rica for three weeks. In fact we fly this Saturday in the a.m.. Since I have never been to Costa Rica or anywhere else in Middle America for that matter I am not only excited, but also rather short on images to use in this post. Also we changed our ISP so that we currently have no internet at home, which does not help either, – so please bear with me and excuse the language only form of this entry.

Anyway, we will be staying in places that have internet for the most part while in Costa Rica, so I plan to do one or two updates from there which will probably be rather heavy on images. For now stay tuned and wish me a good flight ;)!

Petitions for Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest

Dear readers,

please excuse the brief environmental action intermission.
This is a quick post to alert you of an ongoing petition aimed at stopping oil tankers from going through British Columbia’s Great Bear Rain Forest, without a doubt the province’s most unique ecosystem. Enbridge, a company with an extended history of oil spills is planning to send oil tankers down BC’s coast, through the protected Great Bear Rain Forest, which is not only home to wolves, grizzlies, the spirit bears (i.e. white black bears), and other animals, and one of the world’s largest remaining areas of temperate rain forest, but, as I have been told by a seasoned skipper, also an area containing some quite hazardous seas. If the oil tankers, carrying oil from the Alberta tar sand (another environmental catastrophe in themselves) are allowed to go down the coast through the rain forest, critics fear that an oil spill comparable to the Exxon Valdez may result. Please consider signing the petition! As always with petitions, there is no way to say that it will change anything, but keeping up the pressure on our beloved, two-faced BC government certainly cannot hurt.
There is also a letter over at Pacific Wild in which you can tell the BC Premier what you think of trophy hunting on Kermode (spirit) bears. In both cases all you have to do is to add your name and email address, it should only take about 30 seconds of your time to complete these petitions – less time than it took you to read this post :o).

Thank you so much,

Below are some images taken in the Khutzeymateen just north of the Great Bear Rain Forest:

A small unnamed waterfall

Grizzly in the Khutzeymateen

A big male grizzly giving us the eye

The Most Photographed Barn in America

I recently reread a part of Don DeDillo’s novel White Noise quoted in David Foster Wallace’s article on Television and US fiction “E Unibus Pluram.” It is a section in which the narrator Jack Gladney, professor of Hitler studies, takes a colleague, a buffoonish popular culture critic, to see a local attraction, known as the most photographed barn of America. It is such a great piece of writing that it deserves to be quoted at some length:

Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides – pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.
“No one sees the barn,” he said finally.
A long silence followed.
“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”
He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.
“We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.”
There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.
“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. This literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism.”
Another silence ensued.
“They are taking pictures of taking pictures,” he said.
He did not speak for a while. We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film.
“What was the barn like before it was photographed?” he said. “What did it look like, how was it different from the other barns, how was it similar to other barns? We can’t answer these questions because we’ve read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We can’t get outside the aura. We’re part of the aura. We’re here, we’re now”
He seemed immensely pleased by this.

This piece is a gem of absurdity, not only because of the barn, but also because of the ironic fun it pokes at cultural critics (i.e. people like me in my other life) through the figure of Murray and his illusion of being critically distanced through his analysis of the whole scene.
The main reason I am posting this, however, is because it also immediately reminded me of my last trip to Grand Teton and the predicament of the tourist photographer, since Grand Teton is without a doubt the location of the actual most photographed barn in America, T. A. Moulton Ranch on Mormon Row Road.

T.A. Moulton Ranch, Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

As opposed to DeLillo’s barn it is at least pretty and not just “aura.” Nevertheless, it is certainly one of the most over-photographed places I have ever been. The challenge here is not to frame a good picture (you almost cannot miss), but to exclude the other photographer’s cameras, tripods or shadows (the sun rises behind your back), as seen for instance in this “behind the scenes” shot.
In a way the barn is very emblematic of Grand Teton as a whole, which is also the location of the second most photographed barn in America (taken later the same day):

Andy Chambers Ranch, Grand Teton National Park

… and the most photographed pond in America:

Beaver Pond at Schwabacher Landing, Grand Teton National Park

… where the situation is very similar: before sunrise a dozen photographers (yours truly, I am afraid, being one of them) tripod-wrestle to get into position, freezing their hands off to take slight variations of essentially the exact same picture which literally thousands have taken before them, all the while halfheartedly joking about “probably not selling too many of these shots.” Despite the scenery and the display of joviality, I cannot help but feeling like a moron when being part of the crowd, particularly because, as DeLillo reminds me, knowing of the absurdity of the situation does not remove me from it, reflection or cynicism do not necessarily mean one is less of a buffoon.

New blog up!

Welcome to my new blog and a happy 2011!

In the future I will regularly post updates and new photos on this blog as they become available. I will also inform you of relevant changes on my website. If you subscribe to this blog you will be informed of any new posts and images as they go online. I hope you follow and enjoy this blog.
Below, as a starting image for both 2011 and my new blog, is an image taken of the frozen Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park in February 2010. Please remember that all my images published here or on my website are also available as prints ;o).

Winter on Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada