Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kenya 2010: Lake Nakuru & My Battle with Expectation

It took three days before I realized that I had been in a fight, it was an ongoing battle that was causing a form of paralysis. I was suffering from a self-induced creative block brought on by expectation. The words African safari conjure thoughts of adventure, the exotic and danger. These thoughts and preconceptions cloud the reality that is. So rather than immersing myself in the now, I was looking to meet the needs of my expectation. As a naturalist, photographer and artist with a desire to fill my empty bucket with new and exciting images, there was only one possible outcome... an empty bucket!

It was during our second day at Samburu National Reserve that I discovered the unintended war I was waging against myself. Now that I understood the problem, I could begin the search for a solution that would liberate me from the shackles that restricted my vision.  
To break the viscous cycle, I had to leave my recollections of old National Geographic's, Discovery Channel footage and prior travels in my mental hard drive. In its place, I exposed open memory slots where I could record new mental and physical images... You can only image the relief I felt once I began to view Kenya through a creative eye.
It is quite cathartic whenever you discover the source of a creative block. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have had to experience this catharsis. Furthermore, I would love to claim that this was my first battle with expectation... sadly, this is not the case. 

There have always been photographers, musicians, writers, and scientists who did it first. The task facing we  plebeians of the day, is to make the experience our own. Make it different, do it better, and innovate beyond what came before.  

Leave the baggage in the closet... this is the phrase I whispered to my brain. The bags of my past and the work of my predecessors are too large a burden to carry, they are the wall that caused my paralysis.  While it is a bit cliche, in order to suppress your expectations... carpe diem - live the moment - own the moment - be in the moment. If you can let go of your expectations, you will unleash your creative potential and be prepared to embrace the unexpected. 

All of the images presented are from Lake Nakuru National Park.
Lake Nakuru is located in the rift valley in Central Kenya. The lake is one of Africa's soda lakes, and is known for a large migrating population of flamingos. Lake Nakuru National Park is home to a wide diversity of African birds and mammals. Known as a hotspot for leopards, it is also home to introduced populations of black and white rhinoceros. 
©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Northern Exposure

The Dock
Clearwater Lake - Ontario - Canada
Canon 5D & 17-40L @ 17mm

Tamy and I just returned from a 3 night respite at one of our favorite little spots on the planet. It is a quiet little lake just north of Minnesota in Ontario, Canada. Our good friends Anne and Gary are kind enough to invite us each year to shed the baggage of the working world, civilization, and life's stress as we enjoy their  company and serene view. You can't drive there and the walk might wear out your boots, but there is one sure way to visit the north end of Clearwater Lake. Twenty minutes by boat, crossing open water dotted by granitic and gneiss islands, is a little cabin. This is the place to get off the grid, kick up your feet, and stare at the beauty of nature.
Dreaming of Islands
Clearwater Lake, Ontario - Canada
Canon 1Ds mkII & 70-200L @ 70mm

It's a challenge for me, as I have a restless nature and I am thankful for Anne and Gary who remind me that I'm a bit too plugged in and need to find a way to let it all go. You'd think that a nature guy like me could easily leave his computer behind and forego the digital world, but these electronic machines have invaded every corner of our lives and now seem to be tools on which life depends. I didn't grow up with a computer, I took a type-writer to college, and didn't buy a cell phone until 1997. I was a researcher on a little island in Alaska the late 80's, and lived on a research vessel on the Bering Sea. Once upon a time, I'd hike for days in the woods and nobody would know where I was. Yet here I sit, it's 2010, and technology has invade my life, my brain, and my psyche. 
Moonlit Chair
Clearwater Lake, Ontario - Canada
Canon 7D & 300 f2.8IS
This is why Clearwater Lake is so very dear to me. There is no power, they use propane to light their rooms, and you don't hear a whoosh after you poop in the outhouse. Life at the lake is about photography in pre-dawn light, reading until it's time to a take a nap, and taking a refreshing dip in the cold clean water. When I'm not in the field chasing the dramatic light, or sitting on the deck reading a good book, I'm engaged in that most gratifying experience... feeding my face. There are no bad meals in north woods, no restless evenings, and no excuse for doing nothing. Everyone needs to find a Clearwater Lake once in a while, kick off their shoes and unplug from the modern world!
©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Friday, August 20, 2010

Kenya 2010: 21,000 and Falling!

Lake Nakuru, Kenya
Canon 7D & 300 f2.8IS

At about 8:30 this evening I was editing some work from our recent trip to Kenya and plotting a pathway into today's blog. My first inclination was to discuss photography with a focus on animal landscapes. We had spent a day touring Lake Nakuru National Park and were fortunate to see a herd of five white rhinoceros in some really sweet light... this unique encounter was going to be the seed for my discussion.
Shortly after processing the lead image (see top), I was rudely interrupted by a solicitor.... I knew it was a solicitor because my caller ID said, Pittsburgh and..., I don't know anyone from Pittsburgh. Anyway I decided to answer the phone figuring that I'd just hang up when I got that pregnant pause... you all know the pause, it's the moment between the pick up and the butchering of my name.  Well, you can imagine my surprise when the young lady who called my home said, "Hello, I'm calling from the World Wildlife Fund, and I want you to know that Rhinoceros populations are on a steep decline."

A steep decline!... 
Not only do I know about this crisis, I teach it. I try to help my students understand the problems associated with extinction and loss of biodiversity every year.
In my classes, I often discuss how species become threatened or endangered, due to the unending human expansion and perpetuation of irrational behaviors in the name of tradition and ideology. Needless to say, I was quite receptive to my solicitor. I shared that she could not have picked a better moment to call my home, and that I would gladly donate to a program that was funding the transfer of black and white rhinos to Ol Pejeta Conservancy... it was a very weak and humbling moment for me.  
So, rather than discussing the photographic process, I thought that I would share some general information about this very unique and ancient group of mammals.
- Rhinoceros belong to the order perissodactyla, the group known as odd toed ungulates. Perrisodactyla also includes the equines (horse, zebra, donkey), and tapirs.
- Rhinoceros-like mammals have been roaming the planet for over 30 million years and their ancestral forms had a larger range than all of the species currently here today. The distribution of prehistoric rhinos once included Europe, large areas of Asia and North America.
- There are only five living species of rhinoceros today, all of which are threatened by poaching and considered to be endangered. In general, rhinoceros numbers are so low that they can only be found in national parks, conservancies, and protected forests.
- There are less than 21,000 individual rhinoceros living in parks and reserves, and their numbers are falling.

- According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are fewer than 25 individual Sumatran Rhinoceros.
- The Javan Rhinoceros survives in isolated pockets of Indonesia and Vietnam. Poaching and deforestation are decimating their population. The current census predicts that there are fewer than 75 Javan Rhinos left in the wild.
- The Indian Rhinoceros is also known as the "Great One Horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis)." While its range once included Pakistan, Burma, and China, it is now restricted to the mountain slopes of Nepal and protected regions of India.
- The Black Rhinoceros is a solitary and often cantankerous browser. They have a semi-prehensile lip that is used to gently pluck leaves from bushes and shrubs. This is one of two species of rhinoceros that can be found in Africa. The image pictured above and below are the same individual. He is a blind rhino that lives in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, and part of their public outreach program.
- The white rhinoceros is subdivided into two sub-species. The southern white rhino is on a road to recovery with a population that exceeds 14,000 individuals. The largest population can be found in South Africa. In contrast, there are as few as eight northern white rhinoceros on the planet today. The largest sub-population lived in a zoo in the Czech Republic. In 2009 the four Czech white rhinos were translocated to Ol Pejeta, where they hope to rebuild the population. Unlike the black rhinoceros, white rhinoceros are gregarious grazers. They use their wide lip to mow down the savanna grasses.

What Can You Do?
1. Tell the people you know that rhinoceros populations on this planet are threatened with extinction. 
2. Write your government and tell them that you care and that you want them to support the rules and treaties defined by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
3. Make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund... we did!
4. Make a donation to Ol Pejeta Conservancy... we did! Ol Pejeta is home to 86 black rhinoceros, 10 southern white rhinoceros, and 4 (of 8 on the planet!) northern white rhinoceros. These animals roam throughout the 90,000 acres of protected Kenyan forests, mountains, and grasslands.
5. Fight for biodiversity! Every species is the product of evolution by natural selection and every species on this planet contributes to the complexity of the world in which YOU live!
©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Kenya 2010: Published in Strange Places

    Prudent Advice
    Ok, well this really isn't a post about our summer safari to Kenya, but it is tangentially related. Shortly after the birth of my adorably cute niece, my sister Jaime began to author some "lessons of questionable importance" that she hoped to share with her daughter. It was a frenzied creative process where she would write quips about life, living, future, family and fun. However, this is not a list of trite thoughts that we have all heard time and again. Rather, this is a collection of musings defined by honest insight, tough love, realism and, yes, dreams. This little personal project blossomed into a blog that spidered across the internet. The blog became the seed for the book, "Prudent Advice," and a DIY website for parents and kids called ""
    It's really funny how one little idea intended to enrich a mother-daughter relationship blossomed into something so rich and engaging. 

    So, where do Tamy and I fit into this elaborate and seemingly unrelated web about parenting? 
    Knowing how concerned Tamy and I were about environmental, social and cultural issues, Jaime asked if we had any thoughts or images that we would like to share with her daughter. While I can be quite verbose, the thoughts did not flow, but the images did. We sent a few pictures from our travels, and Jaime seemed to connect with this group of Masai ladies adorned in their traditional clothes and jewelry. 

    Pensive Masai Warrior
    Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
    Canon 1DmkII & 300mm f2.8IS
    We are quite pleased with the words about travel (Advice 415) that support are image and love the way the work is displayed in the book. 

    Prudent Advice is now available for pre-order on, and is the ideal gift for new mothers, baby showers, or someone looking for way to tell a daughter that she is loved. 

    One final point... and a shameless plug for the The Way We See It... please visit our link to where we offered 25 Tips for Taking Great Photographs... you just might get a few new ideas!

    ©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

    Prudent Advice, © 2010, Jaime Morrison Curtis
    Prudent Baby, © 2010, Property of Jacinda and Jaime

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Kenya 2010: The Watering Hole

    Location: Serena Sweetwater Tented Camp - Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy

    The tension was palpable. The herd ran in, thrashed about, drank, and dashed away into the landscape. Seasonal droughts produce micro-habitats where scarce amounts of food and water can be found. As the dry season progresses the flora is over-grazed and ephemeral wetlands evaporate into mud holes. The large groups of megafauna are forced into river valleys, springs and semi-permanent wetlands. Individual animals fight for position within the herd... nobody wants to be left on the margin. While water sustains life, its absence restricts diversity and survival. These scarce resources are the lifeblood of the savanna they are a place to live and a place to die. 

    We watched from the edges of a pond as one herd after another ran into the wetland. Warthogs intimidate as they rumble into the water, snort and wallow about. Known for a grumpy disposition, the hogs displace the quiet of one herd as they bully about. They are nothing short of obnoxious as they vocalize with bombastic exuberance. Tails go up when it's time to go, and the hogs leave as quickly as they arrived.
    If you are looking for the drama of Africa, find yourself a quiet little pond surrounded by a naked landscape. Pull up a chair, peer through the camera and wait. The action is just around the corner.

    ©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Kenya 2010: We are the Ape Family

    The physical similarities are unmistakeable. If you accept the premise that lions and tigers are cats or wolves and foxes are dogs, then it is no leap of faith to claim that chimpanzees and humans are apes... we just happen to be more naked than them.

    While our posture, mode of communication, and diet may differ, our physical anatomy and biochemistry are remarkably similar. A comparison of genetic similarities between our two species suggest that there is no living organism more like a human than a chimpanzee or bonobo. In fact, our genetic code, which consists of over 3.2 billion base pairs (3,200,000,000 bp), has a 98.6% overlap with that of the chimpanzee. On average, 3,155,200,000 bp of our DNA is the same as the DNA found in the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes.  Either we are both apes or we are both humans... I’ll let you decide where you’d like to draw the line.
    I begin here with a biology lesson to underscore the purpose of today’s thoughts. Chimpanzees are routinely hunted for bush meat, medical experiments, circuses, and pets. This cousin of ours is often extracted from the environment in which it evolved and is forced to live under inhumane conditions across the planet. Native to rainforests and savannas of East and West Central Africa, this closest living connection to our own evolutionary heritage lives under the threat of an ever-expanding human population. 

    In 1993 the Kenya Wildife Service (KWS) and the Jane Goodall Institute negotiated an agreement with the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to establish a 250 acre chimpanzee sanctuary for orphaned and abused chimpanzees. The sanctuary was first established to provide a protectorate for animals trapped within the civil conflict that was occurring in Bujumburu, Burundi.

    Today, the conservancy is home to two groups of chimpanzees separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River. These rehabilitated chimps live much like wild troops in their own native habitat. Unlike truly wild groups, Sweetwater’s chimps are offered food provisions, vaccines and routine medical care. To control the inevitable population growth, females are fed contraceptives to reduce fertility. While it is possible to see the chimpanzees during brief periods of the day, they spend most of their time in the woods and tree canopy. Living as far from human eyes as possible, these chimpanzees appear to view us with suspicion. They are rescued apes, they wear the scars of their captivity, and they appear to see their captors when they look at us.

    It costs between $4000 and $6000 to support a chimpanzee in Sweetwater for one year. This conservancy survives as a result of government aid, the Jane Goodall Institute, and other non-profits. You can help support a chimpanzee at Sweetwater by “adopting a cousin”... we did. The Chimpanzee pictured on the right is Naika. Naika was abandoned by a circus, but now lives as the 3rd ranking female in her group.
    ©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    A Change of Pace

    Having spent the better part of winter and summer chasing wildlife throughout the Midwest and East Africa, Tamy and I decided to break from this compulsion and slow down the photographic process. 
    I often say that we are “nature generalists.” We like to tell stories about ecology, evolution and conservation with our pictures. Lacking the discipline of fine-art photographers, bird specialists, and macro lovers, we are about serendipity... capture the moment, tell a story and invoke an emotion. 
    While it might seem counterintuitive, landscape photography plays into our strengths. Although many of the best landscape photographers I know spend their lives seeking iconic vistas, we prefer to discover and rediscover the lesser known locals. This feeds into the serendipitous nature of our pursuits. Unlike the frenzy of wildlife photography, we can work at quarter speed... which just about matches the pace of my own internal processor.
    I'd like to offer you five simple steps we use to seek and photograph novel landscapes: 
    Get out of the car and take a walk
    This is not the time to shoot, it is the time to survey the area. Take a hike, look around, and make some mental notes about when and where you want to be. Think ahead and predict how sunrise and sunset will impact your vista. 

    Vary the perspective
    I like to climb on boulders or walk into valleys in order to change my point of view. I prefer to shoot from some non-traditional vantage points whenever I can. I enjoy tripod gymnastics... seeking ways to plant the tripod in improbable locations to influence my perspective.

    Construct a mental image
    Try to build a mental picture of your landscape. Seek out the interesting elements and dream about the potential of the final image.

    Be at your spot in the “right light”
    While this can be quite subjective, the most dramatic landscapes are shot in sweet light. Revisit your spots at dawn and dusk and take advantage of the sun’s low angle, reflected light, and dramatic clouds.

    Take a risk
    Try to break from the cliche. Shoot in a new place, shoot in an old place, and shoot in a different way. 
    About the Posted Image
    Voyagers National Park, MN
    This is a lesser known national park located at the boundary between Minnesota and Ontario. It known for open expanses of water dotted by rocky islands. We made this image during a recent (8-2010) camping/canoe trip with our dog Sequoia. 
    EXIF: 1DsII + 17-40L @17mm. Exposure 10sec @ f16, iso 100
    ©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    Kenya 2010: Born Free

    When Elsa’s mother was shot, she was orphaned in an unforgiving place. Northern Kenya is arid; dotted by the rare acacia savanna and nourished by meandering rivers that are fed by infrequent mountain rains. Africa is inhospitable to those who have a parent, those without fall prey to lions, leopards and hyena. Were it not for the intervention of the rural farmer who killed Elsa’s mother, this infamous story of the orphaned lion would have ended in another tragedy. 

    Samburu National Reserve was Elsa’s home.

    Prior to our trip to Kenya, I spent quite a lot of time researching the Samburu Reserve. I knew that this place was uniquely different from those that I had seen in Tanzania, and I was looking forward to viewing and photographing a suite of species that could be seen in very few places across Africa. 
    Absent is the ubiquitous savanna zebra. In its place is the larger Grevy’s zebra with its oval ears and narrow fingerprint-like stripes. The Masai giraffe is also conspicuously missing from the landscape. The smaller reticulated giraffe travels in small herds throughout the reserve. It’s elegant body is adorned with boxed spots that appear to be carefully outlined in white and bronze.

    The slender gerunuk balances on its hind legs and plucks savory leaves from thorny acacias, while the beisa oryx struts about with its massive body and unicorn like horns.

    This place is uniquely different from those to the south. Predictable and unpredictable drought shape the landscape, force adaptation, and push its inhabitants to the limits of survivability.

    ©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission