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Q&A: Art Wolfe discusses his new book

Wildlife photographer shares messages of hope and climate action in “Wild Lives"

Art Wolfe signs a copy of his book, “Wild Lives” for his fans in Artzen Hall at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. on April 26, 2024. Wolfe came to campus to discuss his new book. // Photo by Julia Hawkins

Wildlife photographer Art Wolfe came to Western Washington University on Friday to talk and display photos from his new book, “Wild Lives.” 

Wolfe’s newest work displays photos of wildlife spanning 10 different biomes, divided into chapters. The book also includes essays from Western biology professor, Gregory Green. 

According to his official website, this is Wolfe’s 34th published book with his photos. 

Q: Tell me about how you got into photography, specifically wildlife photography.

A: I was a painting major at the [University Of Washington] and an art education major. So I got two degrees, but during those college years, I started [rock] climbing when my parents gave me an old Konica camera and I started taking it along to document where I was going on weekends. I was learning art and design in school, I started applying photographic compositions [to my school work]. And by the time I graduated, my allegiances had shifted from painting to photography and that's really how I got started.

But I was always that kid who was roaming the wooded ravines of West Seattle back in the 50s when there was a lot of nature, in fact, a lot of those ravines are still there. So I knew every bird in the forests, every tree, fern, fungus and mammal. I was a naturalist at seven years old, I had little guidebooks and looked them up. So my interests were drawing, painting and nature, now I'm 72 and it's exactly the same things I'm interested in. 

Q: Do you have a favorite photo that you took in this book?

A: The cover of this book is my favorite. I have been leading tours up in bear country [for] 11 years in a row. Every year you see the same bear, they have distinct markings on their face [that make them recognizable] … I think that they actually recognize my voice. 

We don't know half the things they know, such as how they respond to people or other animals. So there's all sorts of bear communication that we're just starting to understand. I've learned early on in my career, as I was around a lot of grizzly bears, what ticks them off and their warnings. They'll start to hit the ground, that's the time you back off. 

But the bears, where we go, are all about salmon. They have reconciled humans as not a threat in the area. So they'll literally bring their cubs within five, six feet of you.


Fans pile into Artzen Hall to see Art Wolfe at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. on April 26, 2024. Wolfe came to campus to discuss his new book. // Photo by Julia Hawkins

Q: Why do you believe it's so important to respect nature as a whole?

A: We are nature. It's important for us to realize that we're not above it, that we're part of the greater wild community … you see that a lot when you're in places like Antarctica, where animals will walk right up to and look at you such as in Hokkaido, Japan or Africa.

There are a lot of places where animals have never been hunted or interacted with humans, and consequently, they're totally fearless and it reminds you that we are part of the whole ecosystem of Earth. 

Q: Why do you think it's important that we get back into nature and rekindle our connection with nature?

A: It's like you're leaving a planet that's not as healthy as when you entered.  I think it's incumbent on everybody to pay attention to nature rather than politics. People will say the first thing on their mind is their own income, but in fact, it should be the environment that trumps everything. 

More and more people are understanding that because we're seeing bigger storms. As the ocean warms, there's going to be more robust storms. Airplanes are going to have to be built to withstand turbulence even more, so it's in our face now. There's no denying it, people were denying climate change for the longest time but now it's so obvious.

Q: What does this particular book mean to you?

A: It's a message of hope for people who read the text or hear my words. If it's positive news, and it's not all positive news, of course, the coral reefs are getting bleached and all that.

But they need to hear that there is good work on behalf of NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations] that are saving or creating more habitat and people need to hear those kinds of positive things. Because if it's all negative, people naturally don't want to hear it. They turn off the news. They almost cover their ears, and that’s no way to handle the changing world that we live in. 

More information on Art Wolfe and his latest book can be found here 

Julia Hawkins

Julia Hawkins (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second-year journalism/public relations major. Outside of reporting, Julia enjoys hanging out in The Planet office, baking and asking random people to pet their dogs. You can reach her at 

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