I have a friend who is both an artist and an activist in that she has reforested a chunk of Costa Rican pasture back to indigenous forest. She has taken to heart Ghandi’s challenge, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” One of her benchmarks is that the quetzal bird which has finally returned to within 2 kilometers of her place, Finca dos Lados.
So I look at my friend’s lovely artwork of mushrooms and plants, and ask, “how come you’re not painting the quetzal?”
“Well, the plants sit still,” she says.
Artists who love wild animals have this problem. As an artist who loves whales, I find it hard to find a whale who will sit for a portrait. The seaweed is pretty easy, but those sperm whales? Man.
I’m grateful to the wildlife photographers who have enriched my connection with whales. I have done my share of whale-watching trips and I do have a collection of my own photographs. But to evoke the awe of these huge creatures, I go again and again to their images to fill my head with the awesome shapes and details. (Later posts will deal with the videos made by tourists and scientists that are also instructive and inspirational.)
Two specific photographers bring me into close contact without me having to go on long sea voyages or wrestle down my chronic seasickness.
Bryant Austin has figured out how to use his high resolution underwater cameras to take sequential shots of his whale subjects and join them into huge, crystal clear portraits. In a gallery setting, you’d get to meet a sperm whale, for example, in a 10 foot long photo with all its intimate detail. I’m privileged to have a copy of his book, Beautiful Whale, which I can unfold to over a yard long, meeting with the same sperm whale at my own coffee table. The camera close-ups of whales’ eyes are exceptionally touching to me.
Flip Nicklin is a long-time photographer who has been featured by National Geographic in many of their blockbuster photoessays. His book on humpbacks, Among Giants, is a gift for anyone who loves the intricate detail of their throat folds.
Art exhibits don’t typically list source photos but I’ve often wanted to add a note in appreciation of particular heart-stopping images. So here’s a tip of the hat (or the snorkel mask) to great wildlife photographers. Thanks for your inspiration and filling my head with the images I need to make my art.
Both these photographers are creative artists and I'm careful not to copy or mimic their works of art. I look at lots and lots to fuel my imagination as recommended by Austin Kleon in his book, Steal like an Artist.
Finally, even with such high quality sources, it’s up to me and my imagination to make the next piece. Again, my friend in Costa Rica helps me out with the inspiring work of her grandson, Winslow, age 3 ½. Who could not be inspired by such a delightful spout of a whale?