Of all the images that came out of my cameras this past 50 years, I find it almost bizarre that my two most memorable (at least from the public’s response) were both shot during the same month in the same year and are both of wolves. I have felt at times that my mission seems to have been to “speak” for the wolf. Perhaps it comes from my journalistic training that I needed to tell the wolf’s story in that I believe that historically the wolf has been the most persecuted and misunderstood of all animals.
I had the privilege in the 1980’s to live side by side, day by day with a pack of arctic wolves over a three year period on Ellesmere Island, high canadian arctic. I was on assignment for the National Geographic Society making a TV documentary and a magazine story. A personal book was later published called “White Wolf”. I rate this experience as one of the most rewarding and valuable of my blessed career. On a daily basis I would see and photograph scenes of wolf interaction and behavior that were magical. So concentrated were the rich experiences that I lost objectivity at the time in what was the most important, visually and behaviorally. Birth, death, hunting and killing were all experienced and recorded by my cameras. Each day unique and unknown moments were witnessed.
One mid-summer day (this time of year the sun never set and I was able to photograph 24 hrs a day) the pack of 7 wolves were hunting along the coast and did their usual investigation of a potential meal. The alpha male and leader of the pack sensed something just offshore and proceeded to explore a couple of floating ice packs for seafood that may have washed up on them. The image is perhaps deceptive in that the frame does not include the shoreline that is just off to the right. As the wolf jumped into the water and leaped from one ice platform to another I did not think anything in particular was remarkable about the scene in my viewfinder… I just clicked away. This was before digital cameras and I had no quick review advantage and I soon put the memory away along with hundreds of others from that week. Because I was working in an extremely remote location in the Canadian high arctic I sent my film shipments to the National Geographic only every few weeks. When the editor reviewed the Kodachrome transparencies from this particular take, the leaping wolf frame stood out and became the lead shot and basis for a story in the magazine… and over the years has become one of the photographs from my career with that elusive “staying power”. I think it may be because of a human emotion connected to the image, perhaps one of vulnerability or a sense of danger.
I have never heard a concise description from a viewer of what exactly attracts them to the photograph. The subconscious mind is a powerful force that continues to elude me in trying to predict or make a lasting image.
View the fine-art print, signed by Jim Brandenburg.