Sunday, October 31, 2010

Close Encounters Of The Alligator Kind

I received a stock photo request this week from National Wildlife magazine expressing an interest in using an alligator photograph of mine to illustrate an article about their favorite places to see wildlife.

While I was digging the image out of my digital archive I got to thinking about the fun times I’ve had with Alligator mississippiensis.

Alligator finds dwindling pond at height of dry season, Everglades NP

Don’t worry, I’m not a mountain man with wild beasts stories, or a species discovering biologist nor an accomplished wildlife photographer. I’m just a guy looking to enjoy the outdoors, and photography and kayaking are great excuses to do so. In Florida, alligators come with the territory.

Nine Mile Pond is my favorite place to paddle in Everglades National Park as it features a five mile loop threading between mangrove islands and over the sawgrass prairie, all with water not much deeper than a paddle blade. Fluffy clouds and blue sky mirror themselves on the water. Wading birds and fish eating Osprey fly above. If you are going to experience just one Everglades paddle, this is it.

Rising sun warms alligator's back, Everglades NP

But by the middle of May two years ago it was the heart of the dry season, and I paddled off the pond and down a mangrove covered trail. The water was as wide as my paddle, about 18 inches deep, and muddy brown. After a hundred yards, I could see about a dozen ‘gators up ahead enjoying the only other body of water left, a house sized pool.

Female gator gently touches male to say she's ready for love, Everglades NP

I stopped paddling and drifted forward, and suddenly felt a solid bump transmitted through the kayak’s hull and directly to my back side an inch above. I listened to a scraping sound run down the length of my boat and imagined rocks protruding from the murky bottom. As my stern cleared, I looked over my shoulder only to see a six foot long alligator rise up to the surface. I had run over a gator, and was drifting toward a dozen more.

American Alligator makes daily stroll from Flamingo Bay to Eco Pond, Everglades NP

Now if you are an experienced swamper please tell me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always reasoned that my 12-foot-long orange craft looks like a big old predator in an alligator’s eye. Why would they attack me? No worries, I thought, I might as well make a few photos, and that’s when I shot the seven footer in the top photo as it drifted by my wide angle lens .

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Faces On The Radio

As my ears thumped to the pounding rhythm of goat skin drums, my eyes were arrested by the  heavy coral beads hanging from the young Tibetan girl’s hair. I heard tinkling silver bells. I saw orange color. I heard the crowd, then saw her intense expression. Sound and sight sent my brain the story of hundreds of folk dancers and musicians driving the devil from a Buddhist temple.

Click here for an iPad friendly version of the audio slide show above.

While traveling in China’s remote north western province of Qinghai this July, I found that my ears had become just as sensitive as my eyes. I would discover an interesting natural sound, bleating sheep, whooping celebrants, chanting monks, and then I’d find a portrait to photograph, putting a face on that sound.

When working in multimedia I like to close my eyes and imagine the sound coming from my car radio, and ask, “do I see what I’m hearing” ? Yes, then lets put a face to the sound. Lets put a face on the radio.

Photography and natural sound work together beautifully to produce a richer, fuller story than either component could on their own. In this two minute audio slide show I chose 13 portraits of Chinese I met - Han, Tibetan and Hui - and wrapped a field-recorded sound clip around the photograph.

Close your eyes and listen ... what can you see? Now open your eyes to hear even more.

I wrote almost every day about my July experiences here. More multimedia photography from China can be viewed here.