Renowned wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen says man-versus-lion shoots are “cool.” PHOTO BY THOMAS D. MANGELSEN
He's taken some four million photographs of animals in their natural states – and wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen’s new book, “The Last Great Wild Places,” is a compendium of the finest work from one of the most prolific and award-winning nature photographers of our time.
“It’s a 40-year retrospective,” said Mangelsen, 69, who was in town recently at his Images of Nature Gallery at 7916 Girard Ave., one of eight Mangelsen galleries nationwide. “It includes all my classic images from the beginning to very recently.”
The Grand Island, Neb.-born photographer, the son of a 5-and-dime store owner, grew up on the American plains hunting and observing wildlife. His hands-on approach in part explains his uncanny ability to capture candid wildlife photographs.
“I rely heavily on my experience to put me in the right place at the right time and watch for the right moment,” he said.
Like the picture on Eastern Africa's Serengeti Plain of a pride of lions sauntering toward him on a dirt road.
“I was in a Land Rover early in the morning, and lions, 20 or 30 of all different age groups, were coming out of the marsh towards the road,” he said. “I realized this was kind of a cool shoot because you could see all their legs coming right at us, the whole man-versus-lion thing.”
Noting he didn’t get his first camera until he was 23 (extremely late for a photographer), Mangelsen added his avocation “just started out as fun and grew into a profession.” He's captured rare moments and vast panoramas during photographic shoots on all seven continents, from shots of Arctic polar bears to images from the deep jungles of South America to pictures of the tigers of India to shots revealing the diversity of wildlife in the American West.
Mangelsen talked about his art, wildlife conservation, climate change and future destinations, saying there’s a method to his madness in choosing locales.
“I try to choose new places every year and go back to old haunts I’ve become familiar with and fell in love with, like the Serengeti,” he said, adding he’ll be returning to the Serengeti in early 2015.
“The more you go back to a place, the better you know it,” said Mangelsen, adding he also returns to spots he feels have great potential for getting shots he missed or would like to get.
“The Earth is a big place. I’ll never live long enough to get to all of my bucket list,” he said, adding, “It keeps getting bigger.”
But Mangelsen’s interest in wildlife extends well beyond photography. He’s become a passionate conservationist who’s befriended others campaigning for preservation of wildlife and their habitats, like Jane Goodall, who wrote a foreword to his new book.
“Twenty-five thousand elephants a year are being poached, mostly for trinkets,” Mangelsen said, adding the same fate is befalling a thousand or more rhinoceri a year, slain for their horns, which are purported to have aphrodisiac qualities. Mangelsen pooh-pooh'd this as “just a stupid myth.”
Global warming is something Mangelsen has observed firsthand.
“I’ve seen city-block-long glaciers in Antarctica that are half the size they were five years ago,” he said, adding one of his favorite photographic subjects – polar bears – are disappearing from much of their current habitat in the Arctic because ice is disappearing.
“They (bears) have to have ice to hunt seals who haul out, who are 90 percent of their diet,” Mangelsen said. “If the ice is gone, seals are gone, the polar bears are gone. It’s very simple.”
Speaking of polar bears, Mangelsen spoke of a wildlife shoot he was on with the late Spence Wilson, who operated the downtown theater The Cove, which many La Jollans of today remember.
“Spence saved our lives,” he concluded, noting Wilson’s observational skills as he stood watch with the Navy for enemy subs during World War II.
“I was with a National Geographic crew photographing a polar bear mother and her cubs, and a whiteout snowstorm just came up out of nowhere,” Mangelsen said. “I didn’t see them. Spence did and waived his arms (to warn us). There was a polar bear coming, stalking us very intently, and we grabbed our gear and pulled the (truck) ladder up just before the polar bear got there.”
Asked when — or even if — he’ll retire, Mangelsen, who lives near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, answered, “Just when I die,” adding, “I’d like to die in the field.”
To order Mangelsen’s new book, or for more information about him or his galleries, visit www.mangelsen.com.