Thursday, May 08, 2008

Blog-erview with Arthur Morris

Many birders know Arthur Morris through his Birds As Art photography. I know him through his photographic contributions to the magazine and his role on WildBird's Advisory Board, where he offers tips, feedback and a delightful sign-off on his e-mails: "Later and love, Artie."

Despite trading e-mail and talking on the phone for almost 10 years, I've not met Artie and had hoped to remedy that omission in February during the North American Nature Photography Association summit in Destin, Fla. Alas, our paths did not cross between his portfolio reviews, workshops and trade-show booth. I hope to have better luck in the future. In the meantime, I'll continue enjoying his photography. Please enjoy this blog-erview with Artie.

Did a specific event/species encourage you to start birding?
First off, Bob Elliot Kutner of the South Shore Audubon Society [Long Island, N.Y.] invited himself to do a program at PS 106, where I taught for 21 years. Elliot, a trip leader supreme with incredibly infectious enthusiasm, has been responsible for bringing birds into the lives of literally hundreds of folk. He planted the first seed.

The Great and Snowy Egrets that fed in a tidal creek behind the pool club where I worked in Canarsie (Brooklyn, N.Y.) caught my interest. Next was the single Black Skimmer that mesmerized me after a night of fishing near the Plumb Beach Bridge in Brooklyn. It was, however, a single bird that -- unbeknownst to me at the time -- would change the course of the remainder of my adult life.

I got in trouble by wandering off the path around the West Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, N.Y., while tracking down an American Kestrel. A blue and orange falcon in NYC? Impossible.

Ranger Bob Cook (who later became a good friend) suggested that if I wanted to walk with the birds that I visit the East Pond where there are no restrictions. On my first peek at the East Pond, I saw a large shorebird standing on the South Flats, bathed in early-morning light. It had a really long, slightly upturned bill with a pink base to the bill.

I heard the traffic roaring by behind me on Cross Bay Boulevard while the A-train thundered by just yards past the eastern border of the refuge. Jumbo jets blasted off right over the pond from JFK at a rate of about one per minute.

"None of the millions of folks traveling in the immediate vicinity of the East Pond have any idea that this bird is here or any idea of how beautiful it is," I thought. That Marbled Godwit was my spark bird, the one that changed my life much for the better.

When did you begin photographing birds?
I bought my first telephoto lens, the Canon 400mm f/4.5, on Aug. 7, 1983. (I still have the receipt!) This coming August 7th will mark 25 years of bird photography for me.

Do you have a nemesis bird, and if so, which species?
Yes. Male King Eider swimming in still blue water just after sunrise on a clear day... Went to Barrow [Alaska] just for that bird and struck out.

What is your favorite piece of photographic equipment?
My Canon 500mm f/4L Image Stabilized lens.

Do you have a favorite location among the Instructional Photo-Tours? If so, where?
I first visited Bosque Del Apache NWR in San Antonio, N.M., with the love of my life, my late wife, Elaine Belsky-Morris. I re-visited Bosque just 10 days after her death on Nov. 24, 1994, and began what would be a long, slow healing process.

I have returned for each of the past 13 years around Thanksgiving time, in part as a pilgrimage to Elaine's memory. At times, the sunrise colors and the skies filled with thousands of geese at this amazing place have left me sobbing for no apparent reason...

How do you feel about rubber ducks?
Though I only do showers, I am a huge fan of rubber duckies. I actually throw a wash cloth over the drain so that mine has an inch or two of water to swim around in.

What is your favorite group of birds to photograph?
Shorebirds. They were the subject of my first book, "Shorebirds: Beautiful Beachcombers" (Stackpole Books, 2003 reprint). And I try to make it to the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge for the last set of morning high tides in August when the fresh juveniles are passing through.

How do you encourage the next generation of birders?
This may sound strange to some, but I do not spend much time around birders other than those I run into in the field or those I meet while doing programs for local Audubon or natural history groups. And the very great majority of those folks were--like me--kids many decades ago.

I try to keep a few copies of "Bird Photography: Pure and Simple" (Tern Book Co., 1997) in my vest, and whenever I come across a youngster with a camera, even a point and shoot, I ask their name and sign a copy for them. In addition, I love to do viewfinder sharing with others, especially kids, letting them look through my long lens at this or that bird. Here' s an image of me doing just that at Baboon Cliffs in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya.

Photo courtesy David Kennedy

What was your most hilarious incident as a birder?
I was on a Montauk, Long Island, N.Y. Christmas Bird count with some of New York state's top birders. I was somewhat of a beginner and watched in awe as they debated Red-tailed vs. Rough-legged as they peered through a very wet scope at a distant raptor. Further (and closer) observation revealed that it was a flag pole ornament...

Who do you consider the top bird photographers?
Wow, you are trying to get me into trouble... Tim Fitzharris and Rod Plank (and John Shaw with his graphic style of flower photography) inspired me early on, and I have done a good job of emulating their styles: clean and graphic. Many of my absolute favorites are from overseas: Vincent Munier of France, Markus Varesvuo of Finland, and Andy Rouse of the UK (who is more of a wildlife photographer than a bird photographer).

Describe your worst photography experience.
Personally, I have never had any bad experiences. As a tour leader I did experience one fairly horrific event.

We were on Hood Island in the Galapagos. We were walking back to the landing beach after a great afternoon photographing Waved Albatross. One of the participants, a woman slightly older than I, was walking not too far ahead of me. She was carrying a big lens on a tripod and had a short lens and a camera body on her shoulder.

We were walking on medium-sized, jagged boulders. She lost her balance, tripped and began running in an effort to try and regain her balance, arms flailing all the while. After what seemed like an eternity, she fell face forward onto the boulders and hit with a huge thud. I thought that she might die right where she lay.

As it turned out, she had four broken ribs. When she made it back to the states (she resisted flying home for several days), the doctors found that one of her lungs had been punctured and was half filled with blood. Had she not returned home when she did, her accident would have been a fatal one...

What’s the single most important personal quality in a bird photographer – patience, technical skill, species knowledge, something else?
Determination. When I left teaching in 1992, everyone told me, "You can't make a living photographing just birds." Best advice I ever got.

I set out right then to prove them wrong and the rest is history... I do not see myself as very much more talented than the next guy or girl, but I sure have worked hard at what I do for a long time.

You can learn more about Arthur Morris and his new book, "The Art of Bird Photography II "(916 pages on CD only) at



Blogger dguzman said...

Wow, what a great and inspiring interview, Amy! I had read his name here and there, but I didn't know much about his art. Thanks for the link to his book, too--definitely going on the wishlist. He sure seems like a nice guy.

May 13, 2008 10:59 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

I'm glad you liked the interview, D. Enjoy the books!

May 13, 2008 12:05 PM  

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