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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

On The Edge

Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge series on public television has brought the intrepid nature photographer to some of the most rare and exotic places and cultures in the world

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on the edge
Another demonstration of tenacity, Wolfe shows a little of what his day-to-day life is like on location.
We started down this path with an eye toward opening a window to the world. The experience has reinforced what I already knew. I knew we lived on a beautiful planet, but I’m still astonished almost daily by what I find. Wildlife always has delighted me, but the adaptations found across the phyla are often unbelievably elegant or odd. We’re in the midst of the largest great extinction in 65 million years, and it tears my heart out even as I record the wonders I find.

on the edge
Competitive and violent stick fighting is a demonstration of manhood in many Surma tribes in Ethiopia, Africa.
Equally importantly, I can see and feel that all peoples are the same under the skin. A mother living in a leaf shelter in the Congo wants the same for her child as the mother in Malibu—shelter, food and clothing, only with fewer brand-name labels. The barriers between us are matters of assumptions, habit and groundless fear. I hope our show can help bind us together in some small measure.

Who Needs Sleep?
Every day, we get up before dawn to get in position for the first shot. For the rest of the day, we click off our shot list, succeeding if conditions permit, flailing around if they don’t. We often keep shooting into full darkness. Then, back at the hotel or camp, we download and argue about what we could have done better or should do tomorrow. We crawl into bed late, and seconds later, the alarm rings. By the end of the trip, everyone has the thousand-yard stare, and we look like extras in Apocalypse Now.

on the edge
A people’s “town hall meeting” in the Great Indian Desert
Still Photography And Video Are Different!
For 30 years, I shot alone or with an assistant, moving quickly and responding instantly to the opportunities I saw. Now I feel like I have a cannon ball fixed to my ankle. When I see something, I need to bring two cameramen, a guide and an assistant to film me shooting. My productivity as a photographer has suffered, which can frustrate me and lead to the occasional blowup. I calm down when I remember that the team is trying to create the best program possible and that browbeating them is neither productive nor fair. I like to think of my immature outbursts as displays of artistic temperament.

on the edge
Osprey in Baja California, Mexico
We’re about to embark on Season Three. We’ll visit the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, accept an invitation to a Kayapo village deep in the Amazon and film Sudan’s wildlife migration, rumored to rival that of the Serengeti. We’ll also go to Yellowstone in both winter and summer, a place that we tend to take for granted, but is one of the wonders of the world. The crew, lashing me to be better, will make sure we produce the best shows we can in the face of the unexpected. I look forward to being exhausted and exultant, often at the same time.


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