North American Nature Photography Association

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NANPA Oral History Project -

Erwin Bauer

Erwin Bauer

Date of Interview: January 18, 2004
Interviewer: Shirley Nuhn (SN)
Transcriber: Susie Parrent
Length: 72 minutes
(Also present are his wife, Peggy Bauer (PB), and John Nuhn, photo director, National Wildlife magazine)

Track 10: (5:00 min.)

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PB: You want to talk about the environment and conservation?

EB: Yeah, I will, if she's got the [time].

SN: Let's go back to some points that you made at the very beginning about Outdoor Life magazine and Sports Afield and Field and Stream. Tell us about how you worked for these magazines, your contributions to each issue.

EB: Well, mine were just adventure stories about the bass fisherman that discovers this new stream or this new way to do it [fish]. He goes out and in a narrative I'd tell them [the readers] about how he did it. You know, that kind of thing. And sometimes we'd have pictures of the egrets and stuff and I'd try to shoot pictures of fish underwater, too, bass and stuff. I think for a period of some years there were really about three [of us] doing the most of that kind of work for the magazines. But then more and more [writers and photographers] came in with better ideas and fresher ideas. I was kind of getting more interested in the creature end of it anyway.

SN: So you opened it up. You helped open it up from being adventure stories and sports to actually more of nature. So that was your contribution to that. Did you write a lot?

EB: Well, I wrote all the stories.

SN: You wrote all the stories. So you consider yourself a nature writer, as well?

EB: No, I'm not very good. I've written a lot of nature stories, but I'm not very good. I wrote a story many years ago - I think it would have been the first story written about the South African penguins. I was in South Africa and I heard about these penguins out on Dassin Island. That was the island next to which...what's his name [to Peggy]?

PB: Robben Island. Nelson Mandela.

EB: Where Nelson Mandela was. I didn't know it, but I just got to hanging around with these guys. "Yeah, there are penguins out there, several thousand of them," [they said]. And a couple of these guys were in the Coast Guard. I never heard of them [penguins] before; hardly any other people did. And he said, "We've got to make a run out there tomorrow. If you go up and see the boss up in the office on the dock, he might let you go." And so I did. I said I wanted to go and told him why. All I wanted was pictures of the penguins. And he thought a while, like South Africans do, and finally he decided, "Yeah, I guess you look harmless. You gotta be here real early in the morning." He said, "It's gonna be rough out there. Some days it's really six-foot water [waves]." So I went and these guys [were]a pretty nice bunch on the ship. It was a little trouble for them to get me to shore in a skiff from out in the surf, but they did. I sold a picture to Audubon magazine and I believe it was the first story that ever was in print on those birds, the jackass penguins.

SN: When was that? Approximately when?

EB: I could tell you exactly if you want to take the time.

PB: Just guess.

EB: [To Peggy] Well, it was before us.

PB: Yeah, it was probably 1965.

EB: Yeah, 1960 or '65.

PB: The early '60s.

SN: So you introduced the world, the general public, to this creature?

EB: Yeah, jackass penguins.

SN: Besides the periodicals, besides the magazines, how many books have you and Peggy published?

EB: Fifty-five.

PB: Not "published, published," you know, written and illustrated.

EB: Written and edited and photographed, yeah. And there they are in that file over there on the end [points to book shelf].

SN: Right. What's your favorite topic?

EB: Now?

SN: Um-hum. Among any of them.

EB: Oh, goodness, I really like them all. You know, I get a new subject and start in on a new book and that's the one. Like when I started working on this...

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