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Frans Lanting  

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NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
17 Sep 1997

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Radio Expeditions
Franz Lanting/ Alex Chadwick
September 1997
AC
00:01:20 Talk about making animals feel at ease. 00:01:34
FL
00:01:35
I think that there are a lot of parallels between photographing animals and photographing people and in the book I make that point To me there is no distinction between people and animals. I try to see them all as individuals with their own particular quirks and preferences. When a portrait photographer invites someone into the studio it's his or her job to do the research, to understand what makes the person tick, then create the conditions that make the person feel at ease or sometimes by provoking a reaction in a certain manner bring out that fleeting quality that reveals someone's personality. And I do very similar things when I'm working with animals. Sometimes I'm very passive, I just allow things to happen in front of me but I do know what I'm after, on the basis of research. But other times it becomes a more interactive process, when I spend a lot of time with animals and they allow me to get close, they become aware of me. There can be a process where they react to something that I do, vice versa and that can lead to interesting moments and some of those have become part of that book.

AC
00:02:47 How do you get the photo of the female crocodilian that's down in So. America in here? You're so close. 00:03:13
FL
00:03:14 That's actually a bit of a sinister image because later on we learned that that particular Caiman, it's a she Caiman was implicated in the disappearance of a tourist from that same lake. When I was with her it was a game of peek-a-boo. I was on a little raft on that lake and she would surface and then look at me and then disappear again when I would try to move in a little bit closer and over time that portrait happened.
AC
00:03:44 How close were you? 00:03:45
FL
00:03:46 I was less than 30 ft.
AC
00:03:51 Have you ever taken human portraits? 00:03:56
FL 00:03:57 Oh yeah. I do a lot of documentary work. Usually my photographic work of animals or any other natural history phenomenon is within the context of a social or human environment. I try to show the links between nature and people, what we have in common, what we have at stake, and the impacts that we have on natural processes. So I do photograph a lot of people but for this particular book I decided to strip away all that context and just allow these animals to make contact with the viewer in attempt to show the universality of certain personalities, of certain reactions and stress that kinship between all life. 00:04:45
AC
00:04:46 How do you manage to put an elephant at ease? 00:04:49
FL
00:04:50 Elephants are actually very easy to put at ease because they're, I hate to use the word intelligent because it almost seems like a denigrating remark when it comes to elephants. They're very sensitive and they understand completely what you have in mind so I can project myself into a situation and I applied that in Botswana, where elephants are relatively relaxed because they have not been subjected to trophy hunting or a lot of poaching and I really believe that you can project yourself with a certain body language and make the elephant understand that I do not have anything bad in mind. And by spending a lot of time in particular spots over time they got used to me and I could get closer and closer and some of these images in the book were made while I was lying flat in the sand looking up with a wide angle lens and again they were less than thirty feet away. It's a bit scary. When they rumble I could hear it in my stomach.
AC
00:05:59 There's a photograph of them drinking at a stream. In the legs are the delicate legs of impala. The juxtaposition is remarkable.00:06:28
FL
00:06:29 The idea behind that image was to show how big elephants are in relationship to other life. Scientists refer to them as mega-mammals and they get a lot bigger when you get out of a Land Rover and lay flat in the sand.
AC
00:06:54 The image of the sea turtle.00:07:17
00:07: 18 A miniature sea turtle is smaller than a human hand but it grows to an enormous size over time, it's a leather-backed turtle, largest of all the living sea turtles. There's something really delicate about that particular composition and within the context of the book it provides a bit of a break, it's a bit of a surprise and it's where a different then in the book starts. Overall, I approached the layout of all the images in this book more as a musical piece with certain themes and then different musical instruments. In this case, are really provided by different kinds of animals or different kinds of emotions. 00:08:00

AC
00:08:00 What kind of music did you have in mind? 00:08:06
00:08:07 To me it is like a symphony in three parts. There's a first section titled One on One, subtitled, Animal People Encounters With Individuals. Within that section there first a number of extreme close ups that make people feel almost uncomfortably close to these individuals, you can see every whisker, every wrinkle, in a creatures face and then it fades into a series of emotions, surprise and culminating in a number of confrontations, aggression and then the juxtaposition of that becomes a series of animals at ease. I've sometimes said that the greatest honor an animal can pay me is to go to sleep in front of my camera because it means that there totally at ease, that there's no more fear, that I'm accepted within that bubble of privacy that every animal likes to keep around itself. So that is the first section of the book and then the second section is titled Two by Two. Which is where we look at interacting with each other, pairs leading to families nourishing offspring, the next generation and that unseamlessly leads to the third section All in All; Animals in Societies. That culminates in the end of the book in an extravaganza of animals on the move. So, in that sense I envisioned it in as something that unfolds almost seamlessly. Where each image can stand on it's own, but taken together it is a continuous theme, like a river, flowing to the sea. 00: 10:01
AC
00: 10: 02 Do you like taking photos of any particular kind of animal especially? 00: 10: 22
FL
00:10:23 It's hard not to get involved with primates because there's really no distinction between us and them as far as an emotional connection goes and of course I published a book recently on bonobos. Bonobo the Forgotten Ape in which I try to capture those fleeting qualities that make the Bonobos appear like near humans. Especially in this book which is about connections which is about connections between humans and other animals these kind of emotional portraits of primates are very well suited. But I try to take things a step further and show that among certain birds and even among other life forms you can find a similar range of emotions.
AC
00:11:18 Where would you see that in this book? How did you get the orangutan to look at you the way he does? 00:11:52
FL Well it comes from spending a lot of time and I think it comes from feeling empathy, trying to project yourself into the position of others and wasting a lot of film. These things don't happen he first time you set up your camera. There's no substitute for time.
AC
00:12:15 Is that orangutan captive or wild? 00:12:19

FL
00: 12:20 I think that that particular individual was a captive male., Some of the, particularly the extreme close-ups were executed with animals under controlled conditions. Because there's no way in the world that you can get that close to a wild orangutan in the treetops. And even if! could I'm not sure that I would want to do it because it probably means too much of an invasion on the into an animals privacy and I'd rather not do that. I have nothing against working with animals in captivity. It allows me to show other aspects of their lives that I could never do in jungle settings. 00:12:56
AC
00: 12: 57 Do you worry about invading the privacy of animals? 00:13:01
FL
00: l3 :02 Dh certainly I do. As I mentioned earlier, each individual has a bubble of privacy, scientists refer t6 it as it critical distance. And when you get within that distance either an animal turns and attacks you or it flees from you. The challenge to me is to try and convince an animal that they can decrease that critical distance and that comes from projecting a certain attitude, applying a certain body language and spending a lot of time moving closer and closer and closer. 00: 13:45 This past summer I spent some time with grizzly bears in Alaska and we encountered a female that had a newborn and she had just been harassed by some male so she was particularly nervous and at first she didn't dare to let me closer than 100 yards but we tracked her for a day and a half and after a day in a half she went to sleep in front of us and the baby walked up to us and the distance was 40 ft. And then I can go to work. I had not taken a picture in a day and a half.
AC
00:14:22 You didn't shoot until then? 00:04:25
FL
00:04:26 No, there was no use in doing that because there wasn't the right condition yet for making photographs.
AC
00:14:34 Why do you worry about the privacy of animals? 00:14:38
FL
00: 14:39 Well we've heard a lot recently about the mentality of paparazzi and I do not want to be a paparazzi of animals. I've been doing this for all of my life, working with animals. I have a lot of respect for them and the only way to come up with meaningful images, in the long run, is to apply that attitude of respect and if I don't get something today I'll get it tomorrow, maybe next year. 00: 15: 15
AC 00: 15:24 Recording ambi ... " faint birds chirping
AC
00: 17:38 Describe your style. Why are your pictures so intriguing? 00: 18:33
FL
00: 18:34 I think that it might be better to ask that question of others. It's very hard for me to express that. Let me try it out, try a couple of different answers. Let me start over again. Ask the question again.
AC
00: 18:59 Can you describe what you do to try and get people to look at your photos the way that they do? 00: 19: 10
FL
00:19:12 Well I use a number of stylistic devices that are not commonly applied in this kind of photography. I look at fashion photography, at advertising photography and at sports photography and I try to present these animals using a number of styles that make the work more dynamic and a little bit more surprising than what is commonly seen in wildlife photography. To me, all those are just devices, they're just a means to an end. Because ultimately what I'm after is to share with people certain individual characteristics that I've found in animals and I try to make it as transparent as possible. And perhaps most of all, I try to portray them as individuals. To me a lion is not a lion is not a lion, they are all different and the same lion is different on two consecutive days. Part of my work requires to become sensitive to those nuances to the point that when a moment comes that that certain quality is there that I'm aware of that I can freeze it on film. I'm not sure if that's completely the answer that you are looking for.
AC
00:20:42 It's not possible for you to answer. 00:20:46 r'
FL
00:20:47 It's a really difficult question to me to answer because I'm inside the work and over the years I've learned how to use photographic techniques to the point that my ideas become more transparent but how it comes across to other people is still a question better asked of other people, of observers and editors and publishers because they can probably compare my work better to some of that of my colleagues.
AC
00:21:39 Look at picture s and tell me about them. This photo of the Bonobo .... description. 00:22:3 5
FL
00:22:36 We're not just looking at any Bonobo, we're looking at Kanzi. And he's even by Bonobo standards a particularly bright individual. People have been working with him, developing a common language based on symbols and that particular portrait was made when I first visited him and it's a bit of a game there. He was testing me out to see how I would react. And then I would do some things and he's casting me a very quizzical glance there. What I like about it is that's every pore and every hair in his face is visible, the way you're looking at an old relative.
AC
00:23:20 Photo of a male lion. Description ... 00:23:57
FL
00:23 :58 There's this deep powdery blue twilight that envelopes the whole scene. Lions of course, do not like to be seen. They're a bit like celebrities. Wherever they go, people and animals focus their attention on them and that's what this image is all about. He tries to peek out from the grass and is focusing on potential prey in the distance and then he slunk off.
AC
00:24:27 It's not too late to shoot that image? It's almost dark. 00:24:37
FL
00:24:38 Yes, indeed is by this time most photographers would have packed up their bags and gone on but I like to work around the edges of the night, for a previous book, I did a whole section on life after dark the African night which is when things become very suggestive, very impressionistic to me. But it does introduce a lot of technical problems. I'm working at the edges of what is possible photographically.
AC
00:25: 10 Photo of a hippo . You must have been very close.
FL
00:25:35 Too close indeed. This was along the banks of a river in Zaire, now the Republic of Congo, and he would periodically submerge and I would inch closer and then he would emerge and then I would freeze and it was a game that went on for an hour or so but here we were at a distance that was probably less than 50 or 60 feet and they can move very fast if they want to.
AC
00:26:00 Elsewhere in the book you note hippos kill more people than any other African creature. 00:26:05
FL
00:26:06 Indeed they do, and there's no doubt about who had the right of way here.

AC
00:26: 14 I like the photo of the katydid. How did you .see it? 00:26:36
FL
00:26:37 I don't know either. Suddenly as we were hiking through the forest I noticed it out of the corner of my eyes. Of course this insect definitely does not want to be seen so in the boo we present it first the way it likes to be seen which is practically invisible and then for the other photograph I turn it upside down and you see the body parts. It's a bit like sliding under your car and you see how it all works.
AC
00:27:12 Is this the same hippo rearing? 00:27:34
FL
00:27:35 This is very clear signal that I'm way too close at least according to him. He's a bull and he's trying to protect a harem of females and in part he was trying to impress upon those females that he was really the big one. And it was a game of bluff I could sense from his reaction that he was not about to charge me just yet but he was right on the edge.
FL
00:28:08 The chameleon, wonderful, just like elephants in their own way they're very expressive. Chameleons change color according to their mood and they get upset they become very very colorful indeed and at night when they rest they become almost pure white. So it's easy to tell their attitude by just seeing that change of color in front of your eyes and then everything else, the way they hold their tail the way they hold their head is an indication of mood so they're wonderful subjects for a project like this.
AC
00:28:44 They're among the most stylized of animals. 00:28:58
FL
00:28:59 Indeed, of course they can't help it, it's just the way they're born. To me What's fascinating that inside a body of something that looks so archaic and so lowly as a reptile there's definitely a thinking mind a mind that expresses itself in emotions too.
FL
00:29:31 Albatrosses? You asked me earlier whether I had any favorite subjects and certainly albatrosses rank among them. I've spent more time probably in front of albatrosses than anyone in the world except a few researchers, perhaps and especially this kind the ... Albatrosses which are found in the North Pacific on the ... islands of Hawaii a very expressive .. They go through a courtship that's nothing short or spectacular. They go through a dance that you could compare to tango. Each of these bird is born with a basic knowledge of the score but in order to successfully woo a mate they have to practice literally for years until they have it down and they can perform the whole score with panache and guts and that's what these two birds are doing here standing on tiptoes and pointing their bills toward the sky and getting it on.

AC
00:30:31And their whining and kind of grunting..
FL
00:30:35 They're whining and clapping their bills and going through all sort so exaggerated and ritual kind of body posturing and it is literally a dance it doesn't work unless both partners are key to each other. It's not just a male displaying in front of female. The female has to respond instantly and do the right thing and that triggers the next move from him. And that literally can go on for 15-20 minutes.
AC
00:31 :02 How old are the birds? 00:31 :05
FL
00:31 :06 These birds are probably 5-6 years old as I recall, so they're still youngsters. Some of these albatrosses will do this for a couple of years and they will not mate until they're 7 or 8 or 9 years old and then that pair may last for 20-30 years.
AC
00:31 :24 So it's important to get it right. 00:31 :26
FL
00:31 :27 Indeed, that's what the dance is all about, to make sure you get the right partner.
AC
00:31:36 Penguin photos are expressive.00:31:48
FL
00:31 :49 It's very easy to make people feel a kindred spirit in penguins because you can anthropomorphize so easily a creature that goes upright and stands on two legs, it's something that we can identify with instinctively. But beyond that, penguins have a very ritualized social life so by bringing those two elements together, I can do wonderful things that make people pay attention and make people say yea, there's something there that I can relate to and to some people, especially scientists of course, anthropomorphizing is something that they frown upon because we are supposed to be human and animals are supposed to be different but I don't think that we can help ourselves there's something deep in side us that makes us relate to animals as if we are part of them and they are part of us and that's what much of this book is about.
AC
00:32:56 Photo of the Bonobo female. What is she doing?00:33:04

FL
00:33 :05 She is literally stretching out let's see if we can find her. She too is an individual, Lana is her name. I spent a lot of time with her for the documentation of the behavior and social life of Bonobos. They're unique in the sense..... (cut)
AC
00:33:39 Picture of Bonobo described. 00:34:02
FL
00:34:03 Yes it's very surprising, Bonobos until recently were considered another kind of chimpanzee and now we are realizing that they are entirely different and one thing that distinguishes them from chimpanzees is that their limbs are much much longer more like our presumed ancestor ... (?). " and she's looking straight into the camera and she's very aware of me being there and in part her display there was to provoke a reaction from me.
AC
00:34:39 How is she interacting with you? 00:34:49
FL
00:34:50 She's about 50-60 ft. away and that same individual at other times would feign a grimace or a snarl to make me believe that she was aggressive to me but I knew enough about her to realize that she was just putting it on. She was just trying to get a reaction from me and those kinds of things I learn over time and I know an animals basic response to my presence and I know when they are really upset or when it serves other purposes and Bonobos we do know are perfectly capable of not just being aware of themselves but also they are very astute in understanding the emotional state of others..
.,
AC
00:35:51 Do you see communities of native peoples where their are no tourists, and animals and humans have a part in each others lives that is not exploitative?
FL
00:37:30 In a traditional sense those kinds of communities still exist but they're dwindling, I think in a historical sense that there are more examples of that or course people have exploited animals for direct material benefit for a long time but there's also been a symbiosis and when I refer back, I can refer back to Bonobos. I was in the Congo Basin a couple of years ago, a place where Japanese researchers had been studying Bonobos for a number of years, mostly because in that particular village there was a respect for Bonobos and they were not hunted so Bonobos would come fairly close to the village and knew they were safe. I think that in a larger sense, I hope that we are just seeing the beginning of this, of a new relationship between people and animals. If you think back to the early 1960's there was very little of this mentality in place. When Jane Gooddall went into the forest of Gambi it was really the starting point, not just because she did that but since then a lot of other people have started similar studies that are based on habituating animals and spending time with them. I think that we are beginning as a result of those studies, we're beginning to see that there's a lot more complexity within animal societies and it is very difficult to generalize on the basis of species. Within each society there are certain individuals that will make a mark, ... I'm beginning to ramble ... But it is an interesting notion.
00:39:30 Carolyn has found this community in BC that has a relationship with grizzlies. I wonder if there is the possibility of this relationship developing. 00:40:14
FL
00:40:15 Yes, I do believe that that is possible, historically, of course, these things have been documented. There's a lot of examples of coexistence of people and animals in places. And in this new era of long term research on the basis of very small study populations, we're seeing that in a very intimate manner the mountain Gorillas are a perfect example of that but lesser known researchers are applying these same methods to creatures great and small and I hope it can be applied as well to non-studied populations.
Carolyn asides
CJ
Could this book have been published a century ago or has photography developed so much since 1900 that that would not be possible?
Ambi: Faint bird chirping noises
FL
00:41:33 Interesting question. I don't think that this book could not have been published in 1900. The photographic equipment didn't exist to allow for that kind of detail. In 1900 wildlife photography was just coming in to its own. The film was so .. was so slow in speed, in sensitivity, that exposures were very long and the kind of action and behavior that you find in this book you couldn't capture on film. And also, I don't think there was the kind of receptiveness yet for looking at animals in the way that I've tried to do in this book. I think it's more appropriate for the last decennium of this century. 00:42:25
AC I think so too.

42:37 END

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