Art Wolfe’s Wild Lives Is Impressive
Art Wolfe’s Wild Lives takes me way back. I remember vividly the first time I became aware of Art Wolfe. It was 1981. I was 21 years old and beginning to follow my burning passion to earn a living with a camera.
Introduction to the name Art Wolfe
My father was a huge Eddie Bauer fan. In those days, Eddie Bauer was THE outdoor recreation company. It was the equivalent of North Face, Patagonia, REI, Marmot, and others all rolled into one. With every Eddie Bauer catalog dropped off at our door, I would dream about seeing my pictures gracing their covers. In those days, Eddie Bauer published exquisite outdoor-related pictures on the cover of their catalogs. And it was an Eddie Bauer catalog that first introduced me to the name Art Wolfe.
I remember that cover. It was a canoe pulled up on the shore of a slow-moving river, backlit from the sun. My guess is it was someplace in Washington State, the home of both Eddie Bauer and Art Wolfe. Little did I know that this man would become the most successful Wildlife/Nature Photographer of my lifetime and probably ever.
Meeting Art in person
Fast forward to 1994, when I was on a ship sailing the waters around South Georgia. There were 80 or so passengers onboard, and one of them was Art. On one of our shore excursions, Art somehow had his tripod severely damaged, and the word went out, wondering if anyone had an extra tripod. For some unknown reason, I had brought two. I was happy to help him out. He never forgot that, reminding me of the incident at one of his New York book signings many years later.
Wild Lives Photography by Art Wolfe
That’s my minor connection to the legendary Art Wolfe, a photographer who has produced more books than most people have in their private libraries. Art’s most recent title is Wild Lives, a book so grand and full of once-in-a-lifetime pictures, it’s like a treasure chest full of gold for any nature enthusiast. And the title, Wild Lives, is so eloquently fitting. I love the title.
The first thing you notice about Wild Lives is its size. It’s 11 x 1.7 x 14 inches and weighs 2.59 pounds. I was fortunate to find it at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair, and it’s HUGE! Now imagine a double-page spread in a book that measures 11×14 inches. That’s an image that could be up to 11×28 inches. And several gatefold pages make the final images even larger. It’s like having a gallery on your lap. The price of $85.00 is a steal for the amount of amazing images it contains.
The cover of the charging brown bear is simply stunning. Many of us have similar frames, but this particular one is perfect. Why is it perfect? The bear faces head-on, there’s lots of flying water as he charges toward you, and the bear’s claws are extended like knives. As I tell my students, an animal’s body language is vital for a great wildlife image. And the cover of Wild Lives has it in spades.
The Author, Gregory A. Green
With a book this large and so full of stunning photography, one almost forgets there is also wonderful text. Gregory A. Green does an eloquent job of connecting the photos to numerous essays throughout the pages. Mr. Green has over 35 years of experience conducting wildlife population and habitat projects and has served as an associate editor for the Journal of Wildlife Management, Northwestern Naturalist.
A few of my favorite photos
Art’s first wildlife image of a moose he shot from a kayak back in 1967.
Page 42 – Muskox herd
Muskoxen have always been one of my favorite animals. This image of a herd in its defensive posture is beautiful.
Page 122 – Barn owl in flight
Quality light from either side makes all the difference in helping to create a great image. I love the backlight illuminating this barn owl in flight.
Page 347 – Beluga whales in Hudson Bay
Belugas are challenging to capture. This image is unique for the ability to see the animals so well. I love the pod’s formation and the rock colors beneath the water.
Page 342-343 – Leopard Seal attack
Art’s vision as an artist is his greatest strength, but he’s equally adept at capturing decisive moments. These slices of an animal’s life are often more journalism than art. This image of a Leopard Seal in full attack mode is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Page 232 – Animals of the Namib Desert
The large image of the Peringuey’s adder is simply stunning. It’s such a beautiful example of camouflage. Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
Page 294 – Chital, Pench National Park, India
This image is so soft and evocative. I love the dusty atmosphere with the small Chital in the left corner.
Page 286 – Underwater sea creatures
This page was a big surprise. I had no idea Art shot such beautiful and technically perfect underwater images. Underwater photography is substantially more complex than above-water photography. The lighting in underwater work is much more time-consuming, with technical skills few are willing to master.
Introduction Page – Gemsbock with other antelope
Once again, Art’s impressive panning technique accentuates the art in nature.
Page 194 – Black Crowned Cranes, Chad
Nothing beats a great sunrise or sunset unless you can get birds flying through it.
Lighting can be so important in a great photograph. These images of Gemsbok in Namibia are perfect examples of impressive lighting. Not all photographers get the idea of side and backlight.
My only minor critique
My only critique of this marvelous book is the publisher’s desire to overprocess the colors on some of the pictures.
Take, for example, page 256, the image of the Dolphin gulls. These birds’ beaks seem overly saturated. All four of the images on Page 254 are also what I call overcooked. Some may think I’m too picky, but I see so many over-processed images in today’s social media channels.
Colors that go beyond what the natural scene actually looked like. A few of Art’s pictures look like the publisher felt they had to compete with the amateurs who regularly overprocess their images. Digital cameras make it so easy to overprocess, and I can understand how publishers could be inspired to follow the crowds on social media. But it’s my humble opinion that Mother Nature is vibrant enough on her own.
On the other hand, examples of what I consider to be accurate color representations appear on pages 226, 232, and 234, as well as the vast majority of all the other photos in the book.
I only mention this due to my desire for books to retain the reality they’ve typically been known for. The beauty of an image in a book, especially the ones depicting nature, has generally been a refuge from the fake reality of the computer screen. It would have been appreciated to see the publisher not go so overboard on some of the colors. Reality is so important in today’s world of over manipulated everything.
Wild Lives is an impressive compilation of Art Wolfe’s fantastic journey for nearly 60 years. It’s stuffed with gorgeous pictures portraying the beauty of the wild animals we share this planet with. This publication is truly one of a kind. I’ve never seen anything like it. It certainly would be a unique gift beneath the Christmas tree this year.
Editorial Note: All photos are copyrighted by Art Wolfe and used here with permission.