FYI – PHOTOGRAPHY: The gadgets that make these images great

Thanks to Roy Oldfield for this: 

Plus, the gorilla’s pet kitten, the real shark photo that launched a thousand memes, and a photographer’s suit against a videogame giant for using her images.  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌    ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  

 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY RONAN DONOVAN

By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

No photographers were harmed in the making of this picture.

That’s partly because of Tom O’Brien, a resident technical wizard who designs things like the camera trap used for this photo of wolves picking a muskox carcass in the Canadian Arctic. Back at Nat Geo HQ, O’Brien even gnawed on part of this camera trap to test it, anticipating a probe by a hungry predator.

If Nat Geo were a James Bond movie, Tom would be Q, the British intelligence gadget builder. In Tom’s case, however, he equips photographers so that we can see the extraordinary in our world.

“If you can dream it, he can probably build it,” says Peter Gwin, speaking to Tom’s ambition in this week’s episode of the Overheard at National Geographic podcast. And he’s right. For more than 100 years, engineers have been designing and fabricating custom cameras and other visual storytelling contraptions for us.

“I don’t like to share these ideas, but I will share one here just for you, the readers,” Tom wrote, when I asked what keeps him awake at night. He tells me that he dreams of building a remote amphibious camera platform that photographers can control to get near dangerous, or even skittish, animals in wetlands, or other areas where remote-control vehicles cannot navigate.

“I’ll keep my secret on how I plan to do it–and leave it to your imagination,” he adds.

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK THIESSEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Tom (pictured above) is so ingenious—brainstorming with our photographers about what they want to do, and then turning those ideas into reality through mental imagination, research, 3-D computer design, rapid prototyping, and fabrication—that he is rarely without a solution. Though there is one challenge that sits just out of reach, he admits: underwater camera-trap sensors.

“Normal terrestrial camera-trap sensors work similar to motion sensors,” he explains. “But they simply do not function underwater.” Yet.

If you’re lucky enough to take a tour of Tom’s workshop, he always begins: “I’m here for the wide, the long, and the weird.” So join me, as we take a look at a few highlights:

 

 

PHOTOGRAPHS BY PRASENJEET YADAV, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The snow leopard: Tom provided photographer and Nat Geo Explorer Prasenjeet Yadav with several camera traps to capture images of the elusive cat. At left, one trap catches an image of an old male snow leopard on a mountain. Prasenjeet observed this cat for two years before its death in March, when it chased an ibex off a cliff. At right, another hidden camera setup for the assignment.

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY LUCA LOCATELLI

The Boneyard: To make this image at the world’s largest aircraft dismantling and repurposing facility, in Arizona, Tom gave photographer Luca Locatelli a camera mounted on a 27-foot pole.

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

The funky bird: For a magazine story on sage grouse, a species of bird that lives in the plains of North America, photographer and Nat Geo Explorer Charlie Hamilton James wanted to capture an image of the sage grouse doing their mating dance (above). There was a problem. Sage grouse won’t dance if there’s a human around. So Charlie asked Tom to build him a remote-control train with a camera hidden inside a fake bird, a contraption that he now calls “the funky-bird train” (shown below).

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES

A dizzying challenge: For Free Solo, the Oscar-winning documentary that followed climber Alex Honnold scaling Yosemite’s El Capitan with no ropes, Tom was hard at work. He built three remote-camera systems for photographer Jimmy Chin to film a particularly difficult portion of the ascent (below)—when Alex Honnold didn’t want any cameras, or people, near him.

 

 

LEFT: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHEYNE LEMPE; RIGHT: PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMMY CHIN

Why, Overheard’s Peter Gwin asked Tom, do you go to all this trouble for these photographs?

Tom’s answer was brief—and resounding:

“To make people care.”

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TODAY IN A MINUTE

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSHUA IRWANDI

The photo that shook a nation: Joshua Irwandi’s stark Nat Geo photograph, pictured above, made a nation confront its COVID-19 denialism. On Friday, Irwandi was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in breaking news photography. Here’s the story behind his image of a COVID victim in an Indonesian hospital, alone, wrapped in cellophane before burial. Late Friday, Josh told us that he appreciated the recognition, adding that he hoped it would help break down barriers to freedom of the press, “not only in Indonesia, but anywhere where journalists are silenced.”

Emerging:
Photo students in the Bronx, many of them in their teens, described their lives emerging from lockdown and COVID-19 in a series of self-portraits published by the New York Times. Dennise Reyes, 17, described dancing cumbia, zapateados, and rock en espanol as a way to remember her grandfather, who died of COVID in April 2020. “I know he’s right next to me watching me laugh,” she says. “Every spin and stomp makes me feel free.” See the images.

Silver linings: For many older or prematurely graying Americans, the pandemic obliged—or enabled—them to go natural. Elinor Carucci created portraits of women who ditched societal pressures on their hair color. “Now it’s just about getting comfortable with the flux, and riding the wave wherever it may go,” one of the women photographed, Sausan Machari, 42, told the New Yorker.

Game over: Photographer Judy A. Juracek has published various books with images of surfaces as a visual research resource for artists, architects, and designers. Now she is suing a videogame giant for using her images without licensing them. Juracek says Campcom used many of her photos to create environments, details, and even logos in best-selling games such as Resident Evil 4 and Devil May Cry, PetaPixel reports.

‘Chosen’: Love and biological connection cannot be assumed in biological families, so many LBGTQ couples have “chosen” families of intimacy, caring, and respect. That’s the theme of a new photo exhibition celebrating queer chosen families. The exhibition by eight photographers highlights “the power of physical contact after a year in which so many of us were distanced,” Vogue reports.

 

 

THE BIG TAKEAWAY

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS P. PESCHAK

Honestly, it’s a real shark photo: It took weeks for marine biologist-turned-photographer Thomas P. Peschak to make his most famous image. Instantly, his photo of a great white shark tailing a yellow kayak off South Africa went viral—and Peschak began carrying his negative of the image around to prove that it was real. But then it kept going viral, for the wrong reasons, meme’d out of context after natural disasters. These days, the Nat Geo Explorer uses the notoriety for good. “Though at first that kayak photograph appears foreboding, its true story is quite the opposite—a tale of wonder, curiosity, coexistence,” he writes in the July issue of National Geographic. “From one picture have come countless chances to tell people more about sharks—conversations that often begin in fear and ignorance but end in fascination.”

 

INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY @NATALIEKEYSSAR

Fueled by belief: In recent months, Mussaret Qureshi has organized the safe return of in-person learning at her Islamic school in Huntsville, Alabama. Photographer Natalie Keyssar created this portrait of the devout Muslim principal on a quiet Saturday afternoon. The image came on a Nat Geo assignment connecting Natalie with spiritual leaders and worshippers through Alabama, one of the most religious states in the nation.

Got trouble? Have faith: That’s what these Alabama residents say

This work was supported by the National Geographic Society’s
COVID-19 Emergency Fund for Journalists.

 

 

IN A FEW WORDS

 

QUOTE

I’ve known people that the world has thrown everything at to discourage them … to break their spirit. And yet something about them retains a dignity. They face life and don’t ask quarters.

 

Horton Foote

Oscar-winning screenwriter, playwright:
To Kill A Mockingbird, Tender Mercies

From: A storyteller extraordinaire, ‘a great American voice’

 


DID A FRIEND FORWARD THIS TO YOU?

 

On Monday, Debra Adams Simmons covers the latest in history. If you don’t get the daily newsletter, sign up here for Robert Kunzig on the environment, Victoria Jaggard on science, George Stone on travel, Rachael Bale on animal and wildlife news, and Rachel Buchholz on families and kids.

 

THE LAST GLIMPSE

 

PHOTOGRAPH BY RONALD H. COHN, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION

The gorilla’s meow: Not just humans have pets. The gorilla known as Koko made the January 1985 cover of National Geographic for this image, in which she was cuddling her pet kitten. Koko, who died in 2018 at the age of 46, was famous for communicating in sign language with her handlers. “Koko could show us what all great apes are capable of: reasoning about their world, and loving and grieving the other beings to whom they become attached,” anthropologist Barbara King told Nat Geo. But Koko also made us realize the cost of our curiosity. “We must remember,” King said, “that Koko was made to live in confinement in a highly unnatural way from her infancy through her death.”

 

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard and Monica Williams, and Jen Tse and Heather Kim selected the photographs. Amanda Williams-Bryant, Rita Spinks, Alec Egamov, and Jeremy Brandt-Vorel also contributed this week. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at [email protected]. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

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