Renowned nature photographer Frans Lanting turns his lens on fragile ecosystems.
Thursday, February 27, 2003
No writer or artist has done more to celebrate the astonishing beauty and diversity of the natural world than Santa Cruz-based photographer Frans Lanting. For more than 20 years, Lanting has traversed the globe on assignment for innumerable magazines and book publishers, including Life, Audubon, Geo, and National Geographic, documenting the lives of animals and unique ecosystems with scientific insight and an artistry that few other photographers have matched.
In a rare time out from his peripatetic globe-trotting schedule, Lanting will present a slide show and lecture March 2 in Monterey. The event is a fundraiser for the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation, which Lanting calls a "key organization looking after the well-being of the bay." Drawing from one of his more recent assignments for National Geographic, "New Zealand: Islands of Innocence," will feature more than 50 images of endangered marine and terrestrial animals that inhabit the remote outer islands of New Zealand.
The New Zealand assignment is part of an extended project undertaken for National Geographic to profile what Lanting terms "ecological hot spots," those rare and precious areas of the planet rich in biodiversity that are especially threatened with environmental degradation. Other areas in the project include Magadascar, the tropical Andes, and parts of southern California.
Lanting says there are some unique connections between the New Zealand archipelago and the Monterey Bay that make his upcoming presentation particularly relevant to residents concerned about the health and future well-being of their own ecosystem.
"The overall theme of the presentation is environmental stewardship," he says. "I wanted to share this project with the people in Monterey because it parallels the ecology of New Zealand. There is an intriguing marine and land connection between New Zealand and Monterey found in a bird called the Sooty Shear-waters. The birds migrate along the Pacific Basin and more than half a million birds spend the late summer in the Monterey Bay before flying back to these tiny islands in south New Zealand." Lanting estimates that approximately 3 million birds inhabit these few islands measuring no more than 400 hectares.
Despite having photographed so many different species of wildlife in all their myriad forms, the most significant and meaningful insight Lanting says he has drawn from his experiences isn''t nature''s remarkable diversity and adaptability, but the common bonds that all life on the planet share.
"I don''t draw distinct boundaries between people and animals," Lanting says. "There is a kinship in all life, and it''s the continuity and connections I find endlessly intriguing."
For all his technical accomplishments and astonishing photographic ability to record wildlife in completely natural settings, Lanting insists the best images come from the photographer''s heart and mind.
"The equipment is not an issue as much as knowing what to look for and being there and anticipating those precise moments when the time is right and everything comes together," says Lanting, whose most recent assignment for National Geographic, a photo essay of aerial photographs of remote Alaskan wilderness, will be published in March. "The ability to photograph depends on opening myself up, and I''ve learned over the years that technical solutions to complicated questions still come down to sensitivity and preparedness."
Although every assignment is different and comes with its own set of challenges and technical problems, Lanting says his best experiences, and his best photographs, emerge when there is some form of immediate encounter or interaction between himself and his subjects.
"I love to work with animals that accept my presence and I spend a lot of time studying and being sensitive to the animals. It''s remarkable how polite and sensitive they are. And they usually signal before they charge.
"I have had some interaction on some islands with shore sea birds, and in Africa with some large animals who are relatively tolerant, although with the large animals you need to know what you''re doing and give it time," he adds. "I once spent weeks at a water hole doing the same thing time after time until I could sense a tolerance growing among the animals. That allowed for some unusual photography."
Considering all the amazing adventures he has experienced in far-flung locations throughout the world, Lanting downplays the relative dangers and excitement that comes from journeying to remote locations to photograph rare animals.
"I''m not an ''Indiana Jones'' kind of guy," says Lanting. "The animals don''t give me a lot of grief, and the most dangerous situations usually occur when traveling to and from locations."
It is ironic that of all the wild and beautiful places he''s photographed, Lanting says he would most like to spend more time photographing in and around the Monterey Bay.
"I''ve been to all the continents more than once, and the one place I''d most like to spend more time is the Monterey Bay. The Monterey Bay as a whole, if you include the marine and terrestrial components, qualifies as an ecological hotspot. Even though we''re blessed with scientific and educational institutions a lot of people can benefit from knowing more about it."
New Zealand: Islands of Innocence will be shown Sunday, March 2, from 6-9pm at the Monterey Conference Center. A reception and post-presentation book and poster sale and autograph signing are also included. Advanced tickets are $30-45, $35-50 at the door. For tickets and information call 647-4209.