Inspired by the Natural World
Connecting with wildlife photographer Frans Lanting
by Paul Epstein on October 11, 2012
Frans Lanting is an internationally renowned and celebrated photographer whose work has appeared in innumerable projects, magazines and exhibitions. In November, Lanting, along with Thomas D. Mangelsen and Art Wolfe will present a bold three-day seminar entitled, “Masters of Nature Photography”. I spoke with Lanting about his life and his work.
BN: What is your connection with Northern California?
Lanting: I moved here from the Netherlands thirty years ago and fell in love with Santa Cruz. I still haven’t found a better place to live. It’s just perfect. It’s close to San Francisco. Santa Cruz has a great lifestyle, a great community, and a great university. I live right by the Pacific Ocean in one of the hotspots of biodiversity that exist in the world.
BN: How did you become interested in photography, then nature photography, and then photography as activism?
Lanting: I’ve always loved looking at pictures. But I didn’t pick up a camera until my twenties. I became very inspired by what I discovered here when I arrived in my twenties, the great west coast photographers Ansel Adams and Brett Weston. That inspired me to pick up a camera myself.
To me the natural world is an endless source of inspiration. To me photography is a way of documenting the changing relationship between humans and their environment. I have an MA in Environmental Economics from Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Before I became an activist with a camera I was an academic activist.
BN: What is your formal training?
Lanting: My training in science is in social science, not biology. My formal training in photography: none. I learn by doing things. You can’t go to school to become the kind of photographer that I am.
I was guided by my early sources of inspiration: David Cavagnaro, an almost forgotten photographer from the seventies, and Ernie Braun. They used 35mm cameras. They were much looser with the camera than their large-format predecessors.
Lanting: By photographing things deliberately in a wider context than just focusing on beauty or perfection. By adopting a more humanistic perspective to show what else is going on. By becoming aware of the issues. By partnering with scientists and activists who are trying to come up with solutions. And ultimately by defining projects in a way that they can help a public discourse, or they can create the kind of visual ammunition that makes scientists or activists more successful. It’s not just what you photograph. It’s how you photograph, and what you do with the images.
BN: Can you give a local example?
Lanting: First of all, David Brower, who invented the whole genre of coffee-table books featuring high-quality nature photographs focusing on environmental causes. We all benefit from the results. Many photographers have stepped up to the plate. What David and his colleagues did led to the creation of Pt. Reyes National Seashore.
How I’ve done that myself is by being active in my own community. We’ve been very proactive in governing land use to prevent urban sprawl and keep the coast clean.
For people who like photography, who are passionate about nature, and who have a day job, the best way to use your time and talent is to align yourself with local organizations. None of us are going to solve global warming ourselves.
BN: Tell me about one of your successes.
Lanting: A number of years ago I created a project, “LIFE: A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME” a photographic and multimedia exhibit that illustrates the history of life on earth. We also made it into a symphony with music by Phillip Glass.
At the premiere in Amsterdam, Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands attended, as did Andre Kuipers, the first astronaut from the Netherlands, and many others who provide great support to the World Wildlife Fund. That was a glorious event. We were able to celebrate nature as an expression of life on a universal and planetary level.
BN: What is your favorite outdoor destination in the Bay Area?
Lanting: There are many. We are really blessed, if you consider what we have in San Francisco versus other metropolitan areas. We have mountain lions and we have enormous concentrations of migrating shore birds. Palo Alto bay lands are world class. Since I live in Santa Cruz I love places like Ano Nuevo, Elkhorn slough, the Monterey Peninsula and Point Lobos. They still give me inspiration every time I go there.
BN: Where is your favorite place to photograph?
Lanting: At home. All I have to do is point the camera outside the window and the subject matter is right there.
>> Join three expert nature photographers, Frans Lanting, Thomas D. Mangelsen, and Art Wolfe, for a unique weekend of photographic inspiration:
The Masters of Nature Photography Seminar Friday, November 9 through Sunday, November 11, 2012