The advent of digital images and cellphone cameras has turned millions of us into photographers. Schoolchildren collect hundreds of photos of their friends, parents keep an almost hourly record of their newborn offspring’s lives and travelers record every step of their progress. Our times are reminiscent of the late 19th century when George Eastman’s box camera first opened photography to the masses.
This revolution has also had a profound influence on the observation of nature. Today much wildlife identification is enhanced by photographic records. Many birders go afield armed not with binoculars and telescopes but instead with cameras mounted with high-power lenses. Their observations are through the camera’s viewing screen and once a bird is in focus the record is sealed with a click.
Photography, however, still remains an art form and continues in the tradition of landscape photographers Ansel Adams and Elliot Porter and wildlife photographers Roger Tory Peterson and George Schaller. That tradition has been formalized by organizations like the Photographic Society of America’s Nature Division and the North American Nature Photography Association.
We are fortunate to have here in Buffalo an outstanding member of that first organization. With his wife, Mary, Dick Collins has for many years traveled the world to build an impressive list of bird observations, over 3,500 species at last count. But Collins retired recently from his position as an executive in the heavy equipment industry and immediately turned the occasional attention he had devoted to wildlife photography in the 1970s and 1980s to full-time.
His success in this field has been remarkable and attests to his skill in photographing difficult animals in the field. His photos attest not only to the quality of his equipment and his willingness to travel to remote settings around the world, but also to his patience and even his readiness to face up to large animals like elephants, tigers and water buffalo.
Collins’ success has been immediate. In 2013 he had 418 images accepted in 174 international exhibitions, and as a result ended up in Who’s Who in Photography for that year, the top rated United States nature photographer and thirteenth in the world. He was also number one in the print division, winning 42 medals and other awards. Here locally he had earlier won first place at the Allentown Art Festival twice.
What impresses me most about Collins’ photography is his range and the accompanying photos make this abundantly clear. The couple has traveled to five continents pursuing this interest. Consider their travels just last year. In February Dick and Mary spent 24 days in Yellowstone and the Canadian Rockies, where he photographed wolves, big horn sheep, elk and even a lynx that Mary spotted in Banff National Park. In March they were in Florida for wading birds. In July they traveled to the Maritime Provinces of Canada for moose as well as puffins, gannets and other seabirds. In August it was Cape Cod National Seashore, where he photographed swans and gray seals. They finished 2013 spending three weeks in the Rio Grande Valley photographing the unique birds and butterflies there.
This year Collins has been equally busy. February and April were spent in the Rio Grande Valley, March in southern Florida with nesting waders and May in Costa Rica, where he photographed one of the most beautiful birds on the planet, the resplendent quetzal, as well as many of Costa Rica’s hummingbirds and the unique and colorful frogs of the country’s rainforest. The couple will soon head to the fabulous Pantanal region of Brazil to travel the region’s remote rivers in search of jaguars and giant river otters before heading to the high Andes in Ecuador to photograph some of the 120 species of hummingbirds found in that country.
Every one of the photos Collins chooses to post I consider a work of art.
Among the many shows he will attend, Collins will soon be exhibiting and selling his photos at the Lewiston Art Festival Aug. 9 and 10 and then the Clothesline Art Show in Rochester Sept. 6 and 7. For more information about his photography, visit his Wild Side Photographic Art Facebook site.