What’s the next best thing to being on the road with an internationally acclaimed photographer? Perhaps traveling along with him or her to exotic locations via the magic of high-definition television. For years, Seattle-based photographer Art Wolfe has shared his eye and knowledge with others through workshops and books. Now he’s reaching out to a larger audience through a new television series, Travels to the Edge with Art Wolfe.
The half-hour programs take viewers from dizzying heights in Patagonia to the jungles of Madagascar, while also providing indispensable geographic, cultural and environmental lessons all along the way. The clarity and immediacy of HD just might make some of those watching reach for their parkas for some episodes and douse themselves in mosquito repellent for others. Ultimately, the show offers Wolfe’s unique insights on nature and, of course, on photography while showing the beauty and wonder of our planet.
Outdoor Photographer: We understand this show is made to take viewers to diverse locations where nature is truly wild. Tell us some of the places you’re taking us in Travels
to the Edge.
Art Wolfe: All around the world—from the deserts of Africa to the rain forests of the Amazon, from Antarctica to the American Arctic. We visit Glacier Bay, the American Southwest, Madagascar, Ethiopia and the Bolivian Altiplano, which is the high plain between two branches of the Andes.
We’re going to some remote, wild places. One week we could be visiting a vanishing culture, the next week an endangered species, another week, a threatened or remote landscape. I think the program has a nice pace to it. I turn to the camera quite frequently, explaining to the audience what I’m after. Then the audience can see what I get. I’m also bringing along experts in their respective fields.
Outdoor Photographer: For example?
Wolfe: In India, we’re in the Bandhavgarh National Park with Belinda Wright who heads the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). I’m taking pictures there, of course, but we’re also talking about the serious issue of poaching.
Wolfe: They’re shooting with Canon XL H1 cameras—high-definition digital video cameras. I have two cameramen; one goes out and shoots B roll such as avalanches in Glacier Bay, while the other is with me.
I’m taking the crew back to places I knew could pay off with great subjects and, just as important, at great times of the year. You can be at the right place at the wrong time. I have a crew of three people and a relatively short window—basically 10 days—to shoot each episode. I have to choose locations that can deliver on multiple levels.
We’re bringing out subjects that you won’t necessarily find on other nature shows. I’ll be talking about the aesthetic of a location. For the environmental component, we don’t just discuss what can be lost, but more importantly what can be done to help.
For example, we were with Russ Mittermeier in Madagascar. He’s president of Conservation International, and he showed us the efforts going on to save the remaining forests there. There are virtually new species of lemurs and birds being discovered every other month. It’s an exciting place for wildlife biologists right now because so many new animals are being discovered. So it’s vital to preserve the habitat.
I think the mantra through a lot of the show is how ecotourism is showing local villagers the value of the land. It’s much better for them to preserve the forest than to cut it.
Outdoor Photographer: So they can use what they have to make a living?
Wolfe: Exactly. Like in the Amazon, for instance, some of the native people there who may have been hired by logging companies to cut the forest are now working in the lodges and guiding people to look at the animals. Once they realize that people are willing to pay a lot more money to watch a primate urinate out of a tree rather than cutting the tree down, the tree stays.
That’s what we’re finding to be true in a lot of places. If villagers see the value of the forest remaining intact, then the forest generally does stay intact.
Outdoor Photographer: So there’s a very positive spin to these issues on the show, rather than saying, "The last time I was here, there was three times as much forest."
Wolfe: The show is first and foremost about photography. Then virtually everywhere we go, there’s an environmental component. We don’t beat people over the head with it. We try to find good things to say, and if the news isn’t good, then we say, "There’s a lot of work to be done here."
Outdoor Photographer: While you’re being documented with HD, what are you shooting with?
Wolfe: I use a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and a bunch of zooms, such as the 70-200mm. I’m 100 percent digital. We have computers with us and we download on location.
When we were in Ethiopia visiting tribes along the Omo River, we had our fourth crew member, my assistant, quickly download a card while we were still in the village. The villagers’ faces lit up as they saw pictures of themselves dancing only moments ago.
Outdoor Photographer: How do you deal with electricity in these remote locations?
Wolfe: We’re bringing a lot of batteries and, in some cases, such as in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we used solar panels for the rechargeable batteries.
Outdoor Photographer: You’re one of the most prolific photographers working today, yet you wanted to take on this television project. What’s the catalyst for the show?
Wolfe: Over the last 30 years, I’ve done something like 60 books. In the last 15 years, most of my books have had a strong environmental message. I realized that if I could get a TV show going, I could reach, in one episode, a hundred times the collective audience of all those books. It made perfect sense to do it. I continue to do the books, but television is a great way to reach a lot of people. The show is distributed nationwide by American Public Television (APT).
Outdoor Photographer: Who is the target audience for your show?
Wolfe: The audience is age nine to 90. Whether they take pictures or not, they’re going to love the show because there’s lots of adventure and beautiful scenery. And then there are the photo people who will want to watch the show because I do bring in salient photographic points.
Outdoor Photographer: Can you give us a couple of highlights from upcoming shows that we can look forward to?
Wolfe: One of the highlights is a rugged 80-mile trek around Mount Fitzroy and Cerro Torre in Patagonia. We’re traveling and camping on the largest glacier outside of the polar region. This remote area is one of the wildest places on earth. It’s a grand adventure.
Going to South Georgia Island was also exciting. All the animals are willing to come up to you and investigate you. That makes for great television. I had one elephant seal that weighed probably 200 pounds wiggle around and climb right up on my back and go to sleep. That was all captured on HD.