Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Going beyond the usual suspects, wildlife photographer Kevin Schafer is working to tell the stories of animals no one knows
“I don’t want to spend six months finding some obscure beetle that no one has seen in 25 years,” he says, “so I have to identify what animals are important and find places where I have a reasonable chance of getting good pictures.”
One of the resources he relies on is ARKive, a centralized digital library containing photographs, film and audio recordings of endangered species that counts more than 3,500 of the world’s leading filmmakers and photographers as contributors. Launched in 2003 and backed by UK-based natural history television presenter Sir David Attenborough, ARKive’s mission is to create complete audiovisual profiles of all the species on the Red List. In some cases, the images are the only visual record of certain rare or extinct animals. Schafer has been a supporter since it began, providing the organization with pictures and encouraging his colleagues to do so as well. While the names and locations of all these creatures are known, in some cases, no one knows what they look like. There aren’t any pictures, and that makes raising their public profile nearly impossible.
Schafer’s work with rare primate species continues. He spent a couple of weeks in the evergreen forests of Eastern India earlier this year to photograph the endangered hoolock gibbons and macaques. Seven species of primates can be found on the wildlife reserve he traveled to that he says is the size of a “postage stamp.” In October, he’ll photograph the yellow-tailed woolly monkey in Peru. During the early part of his career, Schafer photographed all of the usual suspects, too. But now he’s encouraging photographers, especially those who are up and coming, to go beyond photographing the same handful of popular animals and look for untold stories. His ultimate goal is to produce a book based on the “Empty Ark” project.
“Like many photographers, I went to Churchill early on and photographed polar bears, but I never felt like I was doing something original,” says Schafer. “We’ve all seen thousands of polar bear pictures, and although their story is important, it’s already been pretty well told. As a photographer, I don’t want to simply copy other people’s work. This is also my advice to young photographers: If you want to get noticed, shoot something no one has ever seen before.”
Kevin Schafer is a Founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and the author of six photography books. To see more of his photography, visit his website at www.kevinschafer.com; you can follow his blog at www.imageandissues.blogspot.com.
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