North American Nature Photography Association

Connecting The Nature Photography Community


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 12: (5:00 min.)

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SN: Safeguarding. You mentioned the gorillas that you think are not alive anymore, that particular species, and I'm sure that there are probably some others that you've grown to like and photograph that you feel might go that way.

EB: It's really a baffling, bewildering thing to me, and I think about it a lot. We talk about it a lot, too, here. Peggy thinks that I let it worry me too much. [To Peggy] Is that right, or not?

PB: Yeah, I think so.

SN: Well, aside from the political area and the environment, what advice would you give to some of the up and coming photographers? Some of the people who are newly joining NANPA, some people who are just beginning to feel that maybe they could become good nature photographers. What could you tell them? What words of encouragement?

EB: Keep your daytime job. And I'm really not joking about that too much. We have met a good many people around that have either just quit or are quitting, and while they just love what they're doing, it seems pretty tough, pretty futile.

PB: To make a living.

EB: Yeah, to make a living.

SN: But still trying to find a way that they're using what they have - their talents, their gifts, in a way they like. They enjoy it, but not count on it. That this is not necessarily going to be their livelihood.

EB: Peggy, answer that for me.

PB: Yes, exactly. We heard from a friend who's trying to get into the business who was at Bosque del Apache and he said that there were so many 600 and 500 millimeter lenses lined up shoulder to shoulder that it looked like they must have been giving them away somewhere. You know that in an environment like that you are not going to take the photograph. You are not going to sell it. If you don't like doing it, then you might as well do something else.

SN: Well, do some people enter the field thinking that they should do it, even though they may not like it?

EB: I don't know, I think some of them maybe are fairly prosperous for the time being and jump in. We know a man like that. I think he's quite prosperous now and he's just desperate to get into this [nature photography] and he's going everyplace.

PB: Prosperous from his day job. And also there's newly retired people.

EB: It's an awful hard thing.

SN: Is it worse, do you think, to break into now then it was?

EB: Oh, my goodness, yes.

SN: Even though there are so many more outlets like you mentioned - jigsaw puzzles and video and calendars and objects like that? T-shirts.

EB: What was the last?

SN: T-shirts.

PB: Yeah, t-shirts.

SN: T-shirts, sweatshirts.

PB: I don't know anybody that's making big money from selling pictures. You know, they write books or they lead trips, they have a day job or they married somebody rich, but they're not making the money selling wildlife pictures on the market.

EB: I guess there are new ways into it that I'm not familiar with. Like there are a good many young fellows and ladies leading photography trips right now, and they take them [photographers] to a good wildlife area and then shoot pictures and then have little - what do you call them where they sit down - a critique.

PB: Workshops.

EB: That's kind of a new occupation.

SN: Well, it's instant feedback, right?

EB: Yeah.

SN: As I was getting ready to come, I was talking to some people and telling them that I was going to be at the meeting [NANPA summit in Portland, Oregon] and talking to a person and doing an interview. And one person said to me, "You know, I've heard that within about five years there's not going to be photography as we know it. It's going to be only digital photography." What do you think of that?

EB: I don't know.

SN: Would you agree with that kind of prediction?

EB: Probably.

SN: Just digital?

EB: I think - I don't know. I do not have a digital camera myself. Peggy doesn't have one.

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