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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Wildlife Photojournalist

With a doctorate in biology and an eye for rich biodiversity, Tim Laman’s extraordinary wildlife photography is captivating and raises awareness about the complex ecosystems he shoots

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A school of silverside fish swim over a sea star and beneath the canopy of red mangrove trees on a Belize cay.
Outdoor Photographer: What are some of the difficulties you encounter in these places, and how do you deal with them?

Tim Laman: Light is usually lousy in the rain forest, where I often work, and expeditions are never long enough. But one thing that motivates me is the opportunity I have on these expeditions to share the stories of species and places with a wide audience. For example, I shot with a team of fellow photographers from the International League of Conservation Photographers for National Geographic in 2008. We went to Bioko Island, off the coast of Equatorial Guinea in West Africa. There are seven species of monkeys on the island, several of them found nowhere else on earth, and they’re all under serious threat of being hunted for bush meat.

Here, my job was to try to get shots of monkeys in the wild. It was extremely challenging trying to stalk skittish monkeys through the forest. We had to hike into one of the most remote parts of the island, an ancient caldera covered in forest, and try to find the remaining monkeys. After days and days of effort, it came down to a few brief encounters when the critical images were made.

What made it worthwhile is that the conservation groups working there were able to use our images and the National Geographic article that came out of the trip to help promote protection of the monkeys. It’s an ongoing struggle, but we know that our images are helping the cause. These kinds of expeditions allow me to tell stories about not only the places and wildlife, but also the researchers and conservationists involved in preserving them.

A snow monkey, also known as the Japanese macaque, soaks in a hot spring pool while a companion grooms her.
Outdoor Photographer: Your work ranges from exotic locations to places much closer to home such as Walden Pond. How do you achieve the same intensity in a photograph of things that are much more familiar?

Tim Laman: My Walden Pond photography is a work in progress toward a personal book project. I spend four or five months of the year going off to places like Borneo, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon or West Africa. But like any professional making a living in photography, I also spend a lot of time behind a computer writing proposals, planning expeditions and working on pictures. I started shooting at Walden Pond because of its iconic status in the environmental movement, but mostly because it’s five miles from my house, and if I see some holes opening up in the clouds after a snowstorm, I can be over there in 15 minutes. It became a kind of personal-challenge project for me. It doesn’t have the exotic quality of Borneo or the flashy wildlife I often photograph. Could I still make compelling images at a simple pond in the woods in Massachusetts? My goal became to try to create a visual essay that evoked the spirit of Thoreau’s writing in Walden, where he expressed so well the importance of nature in our lives. It gives me a good excuse to get out from behind the computer and exercise my photographic vision in between major assignments.


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