Recently I had the opportunity to interview Eric Rock, head naturalist at Natural Habitat Adventures, for an article on the Adventure Collection blog. Eric has been leading adventure and specialized photography tours since 1998. From hanging out of helicopters in order to photograph burning freighters to following in the tracks of heli-skiers down mountains, Eric is a master at combining his work as an adventure travel guide with his photography expertise.
I spoke with him about his two passions and what he thinks “going on an adventure” truly means. See an excerpt from the Adventure Collection article below. For more of his photographs, visit his website at www.ericrock.zenfolio.com.
Candice Gaukel Andrews (CGA): Eric, I’ve interviewed you before, and I’ve known you for more than a decade. Your two passions are nature travel and photography. As an environmental writer and very amateur photographer myself, I know how a person gets hooked on watching wildlife and the natural world; just go outside and take a walk to a beautiful place. It always grabs you and keeps you coming back for more. But how did you get the photography bug?
Eric Rock (ER): It does sneak up on you! I think it was the storytelling part of photography that appealed to me. As a writer, you know that when you go out and experience something and then want to come back and write about it that you’re going to put all the tools at your disposal to use. You wonder, how is this all going to come out; what will the polished version be like? When you look through a camera, it’s the same thing, only your tools are how the camera works and the play of light. For all craftspeople, whether it’s words or light, you’re always striving for new ways to shape your vision or your story. You do yours with words; I try to do mine with images. I think a good photographer makes a photograph to understand something better in order to tell its story.
CGA: To your mind, how do adventure travels and photography fit together?
ER: I believe that a trip starts before you even leave. As soon as you start thinking about where you’d like to go, do some research about the place and what you hope to see — the different organisms and the varying aspects of the environment. The more you learn, the better the vision you’ll have when you start exploring. But a lot of people — myself included — tend to limit vision. When you’re actually out there, don’t stick to your preconceptions by only looking for what you think you traveled there to see. You need to put those two worlds together: your expectations and the reality of what happens on your trip. The toughest thing, sometimes, is staying open.
When you return home, the learning can continue through your photographs. I still look through images from past trips and think, oh, wow. That’s right. That’s why that particular bird turned its head that way.
Sharing your experience is another part of going on a trip; whether it’s through writing about it, creating a slideshow, presenting a talk, or putting together a book. That’s the great thing about photography today. You have so many more outlets than you did just a few years ago.
And, it’s interesting to see how photo books have changed over the years. The other night, I was looking at one of the first ever made, The Decisive Moment, a book of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson. [Published in 1952.] It was kind of fresh to pick up something like that and realize that today any high school student could technically produce a book like this in one weekend. But would it have the breadth and depth of Cartier-Bresson’s? No, because the material in it represents a lifetime of work. Few projects today have both breadth and depth. Today with digital media, we’ve lost that higher level of commitment to projects that we used to have in the past.
CGA: Before you started guiding nature tours, you were a photographer who took on some pretty adventurous assignments. But now, as a nature guide who must consider traveler safety as the utmost importance, would you still describe yourself as an adventure photographer?
ER: Yes, I would. Of course, back then, I was doing more physical stuff, such as trying to take a photograph with one hand while holding on to a rope or a reindeer with the other. But now, being able to spend time watching through a lens for a special glint in the eye when an animal turns its head or a different behavior I’ve been seeking to capture — well, it’s just a different type of adventure.
My risk today is more about whether I’m going to get the right light to photograph in, the right animals, and the right landscape; finding the best place for getting all of those things to come together.
CGA: So, adventures don’t always involve physical prowess?
ER: No, they don’t. I can illustrate that with an example. Recently, I’ve been guiding photo trips to Mexico to see the wintering grounds of the monarch butterfly. A few days ago, when I was at home in Bozeman, Montana, I decided that I wanted to photographically add to the story I can tell about the monarchs. It had been years since I’d seen their larvae and chrysalises. In the Gallatin Valley, I knew where there were some open areas with milkweed plants, the butterflies’ primary food source. So, I went on an adventure. I traveled the back roads of Gallatin County, searching for a little insect larva and caterpillar. It took a lot of pushing my way through brush and looking underneath leaves to find a monarch larva. But when I found it, it was a great accomplishment.
So whether you go halfway around the world to climb a mountain or to your local community park to look for an insect, it’s adventure. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your abilities are, you can make an adventure out of anything. Adventure is inside you.
CGA: What’s up next for you, in your photographic adventures?
…See Eric’s answer to this question and the rest of the interview on the Adventure Collection blog.