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In the Wide-Eyed Company of Animals

By Kirsten ConoverStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 29, 1997



Wildlife photographer Frans Lanting has spent the better part of two decades looking into the eyes of animals. Long lenses and remotely controlled cameras have helped him capture the elusive, but the intimacy that results goes beyond a mere close-up; it's a mood. What drives him is his curiosity as a naturalist.

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A retrospective of the Dutch photographer's work is on view at National Geographic magazine's Explorer's Hall in Washington, D.C., through Oct. 19. The exhibit's title is taken from Lanting's new book, "Eye to Eye: Intimate Encounters With the Animal World" (published by Taschen in Europe and New York, 251 pp., $39.95).

Lanting says his success in photographing wildlife depends on his ability to interpret an animal's attitude, usually expressed by its body language.

"Although I often use the findings of field science as the basis for my work, I like to go beyond a scientific approach to the point where I see eye to eye with my subjects," Lanting writes. "Ultimately the animals are my teachers. They define themselves in their encounters with me - and no two are alike."

What Lanting is after, he says, is to show the strength and dignity of animals in nature. "People who know me as a wildlife photographer sometimes ask if I ever photograph people. The question implies a separation between humans and other animals that does not exist for me. People are always present in my photographs, whether the images appear to be of sanderlings, chameleons, or cougars. You just have to learn to look past their disguise."