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Wednesday, July 7, 2004


In pursuit of all things wild

Wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen to visit Images of Nature Gallery

Express Arts Editor

Consider just the last six months in the life of wildlife photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen. He was in Japan photographing snow monkeys, in Alaska tracking down bald eagles and on the Serengeti Plain capturing images of elephants. Throw in a trip to Antarctica for penguins and a venture to his native state of Nebraska to witness the crane migration and you get a sense of what it would be like to be one of the world’s most acclaimed wildlife photographers.

Also on that schedule is a stop 5 p.m. tonight at Mangelsen’s Images of Nature gallery in Ketchum for a book signing. The Ketchum gallery is one of 15 that Mangelsen owns, operates and provides with his arresting images.

Mangelsen, who lives in Jackson, Wyo., is a friendly and reserved man who takes his success in stride. For him, wildlife photography is less a business than a pursuit that "fills a need to be outdoors," he said in an interview last week.

Remarkably, Mangelsen did not take a picture until he was 21 years old. But a lot of the skills he deems important for being a good wildlife photographer he attributes to his early experiences hunting with his father on the Platte River in Nebraska. There he "learned about wildlife, to be a keen observer, to have a sense of what the weather might do." He also spent a considerable amount of his academic career, both undergraduate and graduate work, studying wildlife biology and habitat.

"I try to be aware and knowledgeable about the animals (I am photographing). Some animals tolerate you and some don’t. I try to minimize my impact on them and their impact on me," he said.

Mangelsen’s entire year is scheduled around animals and their natural cycles. To get images of animals in their prime—physically and behaviorally—he will, for instance, photograph mammals in the fall and birds in the spring.

As glamorous as jet-setting around the world shooting photos sounds, Mangelsen’s job is not an easy one. It involves lugging around between 600 and 700 pounds of equipment and waiting patiently in the wild for long periods of time in varying weather conditions.

In composing an image, Mangelsen said he "tries to anticipate an animal in the landscape … and see landscapes that would be accentuated by an animal in it. You can maximize your chances with knowledge (of an animal’s habits). Other times, some things just fall into your lap."

The latter situation is when speed is important—knowing just what lens to reach for, what shutter speed to use, which camera body to grab. After some time, choosing the right equipment for a given shot becomes almost instinctive, Mangelsen said.

Whether he has skill, luck, luck because he’s skillful or all of the above, Mangelsen manages to make his camera virtually disappear such that he can provide a look onto the animal world where the distinction between observer and the observed seems to fade.

Mangelsen’s talent is that for a moment it can seem as if we are there on the ice cap or on the hot Serengeti Plain staring down something wild, indifferent and perhaps a bit beyond our full understanding.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.