Having spent six days on the Serengeti in 2008, I was quite excited about our travels to Kenya and the infamous Masai Mara National Reserve. While "The Mara" is relatively small when compared to the Serengeti, the diminutive size sports a densely packed diversity of life that is unparalleled.
To emphasize the graphic character of the African fauna, I decided to process much of our work from the Mara in black and white. While dawn and dusk offer great opportunities to photograph wildlife in sweet warm tones, the midday is not so kind. In Africa, every minute off safari feels like a wasted opportunity. Realizing that this would probably be my last African safari for a number of years, I felt compelled to capture every moment... Although the light was often less than ideal, I knew that a strong composition and well balanced image could produce compelling photos when processed for black and white tones. In this series of pictures, my goal was to use black and white processing to emphasize the unique morphology that is so characteristic of African species.
It is October and my work at the High School is peaking. The "combo-platter" that includes AP Biology, voluminous papers, college letters of reference, Environmental Club, and Department Chair are conspiring to bury me in paper work! During the summer I have nothing but time to focus on photography and writing. Now that it is fall, life is about time management and the empty desires to be a photographer again... So, it should be no surprise that the request to show my work during the months of October and November felt more like a burden than an honor. But, here I sit with three exhibits occurring simultaneously at the busiest time of my teaching year.
It is a convergence... good fortune... but bad timing. Should you be interested in Seeing our Photography in Print, you can find them through October and November....
It was a bit of a crap shoot, but I thought that my research would pay off. The event has been repeated for millennia as the wildebeest relive the tragedy of the commons. The seemingly infinite fields of Serengeti grasses are actually an ephemeral resource mowed to the roots by greedy grazers that nibble the foliage down to the soil. It was the end of June; the wildebeest should be on the move. The anticipation of seeing the great migration weighed on my every thought. I had visions of viewing nervous herds leaping into crocodile infested waters in a futile attempt to find a utopia on the Mara.
Where were the wildebeest? We drove for hours as we made our way towards the Tanzanian border. We traversed endless fields of tall grasses, and had infrequent encounters with wildlife. For two days we searched the Mara, but the great migration was not to be found. The wildebeest were coming, but not until their food was gone. We arrived too soon. From the Kenyan border we could see the herd beginning to grow, but it was not showtime. We waited for hours and revisited the "hotspots," but they were not ready to take the plunge.
The wildebeest are coming, the wildebeest are coming... but we have to go.
While Fall is at its infancy across most of the United States, it's coming to a close in Minnesota. Is this fair? No... but this is one inequity in which I know lacks a real solution.
I could submit a complaint, but to whom and where shall it be sent? The department of the shafted and screwed? The organization of latitudinally misplaced locations? Winter loathers anonymous?
I'm not wild about the fallen leaves, the barren branches, and the forecast of a long cold winter, but it is what it is. Fall has ended like it does every year,... prematurely. I want more. I want to smell it, see it and feel it throughout the month of November, but that is not the Minnesota way. I'll miss you Fall...
All images are from William Obrien State Park in Central Minnesota
He continued... “This guy does not like people... I don’t think he is going to move. We need to wait here.”
The sun was fading. We were on the tail end of a day-long game drive and were making our way towards a tented camp on the perimeter of the Mara. I was shooting a serene elephant-scape in some sweet light, but it was time to move on.
This was another great elephant day.
During midday, we photographed lonely bachelor males meandering across the savanna. While the harsh light was a challenge to expose, I knew that black and white processing would emphasize the character of their wrinkled skin pocked by sun dried clay and mud.
While we did not have a repeat performance of elephant babes playing tug with their trunks, we were fortunate to see families traversing the Mara’s rich fields and acacia forests. You just can’t see too many elephants... there is something about the massive bodies, expressive eyes, and tender interactions that captivate the imagination.
But now,... we were face to face with the “Bad One.”
Armed rangers, charged with protecting the park’s inhabitants, were now between us and it. Francis whispered again, “That one will tip their truck... he does not like the Rangers.” The elephant moved closer, and the Rangers threw their car in reverse. The truck ran scared as the Rangers violated their own rules, rules that would cost Francis his license if he were to follow. The park vehicle moved off the road, drove along the riverbed and made a wide turn around the approaching pachyderm. They were safe... we were not.
The monster seemed to be a caricature of himself... a giant bully with a torn ear, massive head, and a nasty disposition. Was it minutes or hours, I’m not sure... but we waited as he stared, approached, and stared again. I could see that Francis was assessing our limited options... reverse..., traverse..., stand our ground... We stood our ground, and the monster continued it’s approach.
We three,... Tamy, my mother, and I looked at each other. I could see the thought cloud billowing above our collective heads... Now What?... What good are those Rangers?... The elephant walked closer.
We were within ten meters of each other when Francis shifted the truck in reverse. He eased the vehicle back... we gave ground... we said “uncle.” The bully understood; he won and he knew it. Confident of his supremacy, the monster walked off the road and joined his family. Humbled by the power of the one, we drove off into the sunset and rejoiced in surviving this last stand.
Here in Minnesota, Fall is the "Big Show." Having grown up in Southern California, I find the seasonal transition from Summer to Fall to be quite exciting. It seems as if no two Falls are the same, and each has a uniquely different duration and character. My inability to predict the intensity of the autumnal season makes Fall photography quite a challenge.
During the summer I can grab my gear and shoot on a whim. In contrast, Fall coincides with a new school year, commitment to students, curriculum, and a complete contraction of personal time. Beautiful days, crisp air, and endless photographic opportunities now conspire to distract my focus. My conflict cuts so deep, that I think about teaching while shooting in the field, and photography while teaching students. What is wrong with is brain?
We pointed the Subaru Outback due North on an early Saturday morning and began our search for Fall. Although the colors did not disappoint, the light was less than flattering. The atmospherics of the sunrise were a bore, and the sky was free of clouds. A great day to frolic, a lousy one for photography. But it's Fall, it's unpredictable, and it's brief. We ignored the misfortunes of bad light, grabbed our telephotos, and focused on details. We shot small for Fall, and now dream about next year's "Big Show."