Wildlife Matters: See National Geographic's 50 Greatest Nature Photos at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

By Thomas, M. | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), November 14, 2019 | Go to article overview

Wildlife Matters: See National Geographic's 50 Greatest Nature Photos at Carnegie Museum of Natural History


Thomas, M., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


There was a time when an exhibition titled "National Geographic: 50 Greatest Wildlife Photographs" might conjure appealing but predictable images of African safari animals frozen in a grasslands tableau.

Not anymore.

Imagery in this show, which opens Saturday at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Oakland, ranges from Randy Olson's breathtakingly atmospheric photograph of migrating sandhill cranes to Paul Nicklen's underwater closeup of a leopard seal offering the photographer a penguin she'd just killed.

Mr. Olson's "Sand Hill Cranes" was chosen 2017 Photo of the Year by the prestigious Siena International Photo Awards, beating out nearly 50,000 submissions from 161 counties.

It shows a flock of cranes in motion as a bolt of lightning strikes Ogallala aquifer near Wood River, Neb. He and his wife, Melissa Farlow, are National Geographic photographers who live part of the year in Pittsburgh.

Canadian photographer, filmmaker and marine biologist Paul Nicklen is co-founder of the conservation nonprofit SeaLegacy. He's recipient of the Natural Resources Defense Council BioGems Visionary Award and an honorary doctorate at the University of Victoria, Canada, for the impact his photography has had on climate change.

Mr. Nicklen's encounter with the 12-foot seal began when she threatened him by opening her mouth. She then brought him penguins she had caught, apparently trying to teach him how to hunt. When he didn't respond, she killed one for him. See a video of Mr. Nicklen's encounter at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmVWGvO8Yhk.

The ability to take such awe-inspiring photographs is due in part to technological advances, said Eric Dorfman, the museum's director.

"They are using that technology not only to capture the image but to get to the places where animals are in the first place," he said.

The expansiveness of subject and style exhibited also fits nicely with the museum's evolving mission. Mr. Dorfman said they are no longer just about collecting species but also about ensuring the future of those species.

"It's in the DNA of the museum," he said. "What can we do?" is the question staff is asking.

This approach dovetails with a contemporary focus on the effect of human activity upon the planet.

"So many in this show are deeply under threat," Mr. Dorfman said, citing as an example Chris Johns' giraffe enveloped in fog in the Ndumu Game Reserve in South Africa.

"It has an otherworldly quality that's more than just the animal and the trees. The form, structure, so sumptuous in the different ways you could look at that. ... In the next 50 years we may lose all giraffes."

Mr. Dorfman hopes the photographs will feed "people's enthusiasm for nature and inspire thinking about a positive future direction to save what we have left.

"People can wander through the show and just look at the imagery. They can think about animals and the environment."

He doesn't shy away from appealing to emotion, noting how Thomas Peschak's baby whale swims toward the hands of tourists dangling in the water. …

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