“What my eyes seek in these encounters is not just the beauty traditionally revered by wildlife photographers. The perfection I seek in my photographic composition is a means to show the strength and dignity of animals in nature.” -Frans Lanting

Frans Lanting, born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, moved to Santa Cruz, California around 1982 where he lives by the Pacific Ocean. It’s a hotspot of biodiversity.

Interested in photography

“I’ve always loved looking at pictures,” Lanting says, “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.”

Lanting goes on saying, “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.”

Photographing beyond the surface

Tom Kennedy, former photography director at National Geographic says of Lanting, “He has the mind of a scientist, the heart of a hunter, and the eyes of a poet.”

On Photography: Frans Lanting, 1951-present
Frans Lanting in Kenya, 2011

Lanting goes deeper into Kennedy’s comment saying, “You have to be analytical. If you don’t understand what you are photographing, you are just looking at the surface of things. If you can’t get into this dance with wild animals, you remain a scientist,” he says.

“There’s an interaction that goes on between animals and myself, and I’m working with them. It’s not as simple as sitting there and aiming a large telephoto lens from a great distance.” Although he isn’t a hunter, there are aspects of his photography that resemble hunting, Lanting adds. “And ultimately, you have to be able to express things in a way that is lyrical and poetical, or else it’s just a record.”

Environmental activist

Frans Lansing started in environmental activism as an academic. He learned how to photograph nature as a keen observer. Then he became an activist with a camera. He photographed things deliberately not necessarily focusing on beauty or perfection. He became aware of a more humanistic view of the world to leverage his conversation work.

“By partnering with scientists and activists who are trying to come up with solutions,” Lansing explains, “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.”

Acting locally

Frans Lansing and his wife and partner Chris Eckstrom, a writer, producer and videographer are active in their community. “

We’ve been very proactive in governing land use to prevent urban sprawl and keep the coast clean.” He continues, “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.”

Photographic environmentalism

Frans Lanting sees the exploding popularity of people becoming interested in photography as refreshing. Photography was once a highly specialized practice. Now, he notes, “Everyone is a citizen with a camera in their hands. We know with recent social issues and political eruptions how important that is.”

“I think we are just seeing the beginning of a new era in photography,” Lanting says. “What it does to the more deliberate kinds of photography — hopefully, it’ll stimulate a small percentage of the people who start with this to consider taking the next step from taking pictures to making photographs.”

Life: A journey through time

Life: A journey through time is a multimedia project that used photography and video to show the history of life on our planet. It became a symphony with music by Phillip Glass. The work premiered in Amsterdam with Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and the first Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers attending to support the World Wildlife Fund.

Bay area favorite photo locations

Frans Lanting considers himself and his wife, Chris, blessed to live in the surrounds of San Francisco Bay. There he find amazing diversity not available in other metro areas. “We have mountain lions and we have enormous concentrations of migrating shore birds.” He says, “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.”

When asked where his favorite place to photograph is, his reply is simple, “At home. All I have to do is point the camera outside the window and the subject matter is right there.”

Sources: Smithsonian Magazine, Bay Nature, Frans Lanting.