National Geographic : 1990 Apr
ecosystem will be controlled by humans rather than by the traditional interaction among animals, plants, and earth. Others will be captives, living in the artificial twilight zone of zoos. Their origi nal wildernesses will be reproduced as tiny enclaves landscaped by foam rocks and bounded by walls of iron. Their "home range" will be surrounded by human dwellings or fast-food franchises. Their mates will be chosen by computer selection, and their reproductive acts will take place in petri dishes. Recognizing this, I have no desire to perpetuate the romantic mirages of traditional wildlife pho tography. Instead, I have created images of animals in exile from that lost Eden, adrift in the ether ofa planet now alien to them. It is a new kind oflandscape, one largely devoid of the familiar topog raphy. But it is the place they must now call home. Some of the photographic techniques I used to symbolize that new landscape were borrowed from contemporary advertising photography, whose contrived "look" is aimed at creating a desire for superfluous goods such as cosmetics, liquor, jewelry, and high-fashion clothing. In a sense the use of those techniques is an ironic commentary on our society, which is so adept at turning the meaningless into the priceless. These photographs thus challenge us to revise our perceptions enough to separate the truly priceless from the meaningless. The series of photographs took more than two years to make and involved nearly 80,000 miles of travel. Altogether I photographed 233 individual animals representing 96 species. In every case success orfailure hung on a single basic question: What photograph was the animal willing to make with me? The best images grew out of an emotional exchange between the animal and me, and I often thought of the sessions as collaborative performances. That is hardly surprising, for humankind does not stand removed from animals and nature-we are an integral part of the vast network of life forces. Because of certain aspects of our cultural heri tage we have exiled ourselves mentally from that network at a terrible cost to the animals and to our selves. Their endangerment and their alienation from their habitat mirror our own; we too are adrift in the ether of alienation. We are, after all, the descendants of animals, and our identity stems not from our experi ence with animals, but rather from our experience as animals. When we look at the images on these pages, we rediscover the fact that animal powers still speak to us. The language is often sub tle and varied: Even now, many months after some of these photographs were made, I am not cer tain exactly what they mean. The giant panda seated center stage in his theater, the elephant drifting through a veil of gauze-each time I look at them they speak to me anew. Perhaps these images can play a small part in helping us find our way home out of that long exile from nature. But until we become much more skilled at listening to the voices of nature in and around us, all animals-including the one we call human-are in jeopardy. The unspeakable tragedy is that our learning process will be too slow to prevent some of the extraordinary animals on these pages from being among the last survivors of their species. JAMES BALOG BLACKSTAR James Balog is an award-winningphotographerwhose work has been published worldwide. His book, Survivors: A New Vision of Endangered Wildlife, will be published in September by Harry N. Abrams of New York, and a traveling exhibit will tour the country.