Photographer Nine Francois finds the wildside in her art, to be shown at Julie Nester Gallery
Fine art photography has its dangers, especially when the subject happens to be wild animals, said Nine Francois.
“I was in Durango, Colorado, two summers ago to photograph a yak,” Francois said. “I was laying in the grass in the pasture photographing a yak and her calf. I must have been about 15 feet away from them.”
Suddenly, the mother yak, called a dri dri, stood up and began to charge.
“I stood up, and the weirdest thing happened,” Francois said. “I didn’t run away. The first thing I did was run toward her. It was instinctual. I didn’t even think about it.”
At that point both woman and yak stopped and backed off.
“We came to the point where we scared each other,” Francois said.
The photo of the yak is part of Francois’ new exhibit, “Animalia II,” which will open with an artist reception from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 17, at Julie Nester Gallery, 1280 Iron Horse Drive. The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature a short presentation by Francois, and an opportunity drawing for one of her photographs. The ticket proceeds will be donated to Nuzzles and Co., a Park City-based pet rescue.
In addition, a portion of the money from any sales during the reception will also be donated to the nonprofit.
Francois, who opened her first “Animalia” exhibit at the gallery four years ago, said the new exhibit is composed of 14 works that were primarily shot in Alaska and Montana.
One of the Alaskan animals is a moose, which Francois has wanted to photograph since 2014, when her daughter gave the book, “Odd Couples” to her brother.
F“It featured photographs of disparate animals that have become friends, like a bunny and a tiger, and things like that.”
One of the pairings was of a moose and a young woman who had befriended him when he was an abandoned calf.
“It registered that I needed to find that moose, but I couldn’t find it, until I heard through the grapevine that there was a moose called Nelson at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center who had been nursed by a young college student,” Francois said. The photographer called the center and was able to connect the dots that Nelson was the same moose in the book.
“I said, ‘Oh, my God. I need to come up and photograph your moose,” Francois said. “I’ve been waiting to do this for years.”
In addition to Nelson, Francois photographed reindeer, elk, bison, porcupines, owls and a brown bear during her Alaska trip, she said.
The animals from Montana include a fox and bobcat.
“I had to photograph those animals in the snow, which was pretty amazing,” Francois said. “I had my equipment out there and I had to keep the snowflakes from getting on the lens. I mean, everything was getting drenched.”
The photographer and her assistants searched for a clear place where she could photograph the animals without any trees in the background.
“That meant a trek in the snow with a sled that held all my equipment up an embankment, through a field an up a ravine,” she said. “It was pretty intense, and I kept thinking, ‘I couldn’t have gotten a nice office job some place?’”
Francois’ wildlife images differ in that she doesn’t capture the animals in a scenic setting. The photographer uses a wide-angle lens and captures up-close images of the animals, but then overexposes the photo to wash out the background.
The style sometimes proves tricky for Francois to decide which photographs to use for her exhibits.
“Sometimes you can tell right off the bat, but sometimes if you’re too close to the work, like I am most of the time, you can’t tell which ones are right for the collection,” she said. “So I’ll put the images up in my home and office where I have to look at them all the time.”
The weaker photographs start to fall away after a while and the ones that are left are used in the collection.
“Sometimes it’s the look of the animal — the connection with the content,” Francois said. “But sometimes there are some formal composition things that make the difference.”
Those compositional elements include how a shape fits into the frame, or how the animal’s image divides the space.
“I also see how the tones that are weighted on one side are balanced from the other,” Francois said. “Sometimes the photos are decided on formal artistic elements — lighting, shadow. When you add levels of interpretation, the picture gets richer and richer and has a better chance for sustainability.”
While Francois is drawn to her art by the thrill of getting up close the animals, she is always relieved to finish a session without getting gored or trampled.
“This last time when we were in Alaska, we rode around in a golf cart where there were elk,” she said. “The elk are huge and majestic, but they are also skittish and have these huge antlers. So when I got out of the cart, I had to walk really slowly and tried not to look too menacing so they wouldn’t get scared and gore me.”
During the same session, Francois and her assistants, along with a guide, entered a pen of bison.
“All the females came up to us and stuck their heads with their horns into the golf cart,” Francois said.
People have asked the photographer why she doesn’t just shoot the photos with a long lens and just drop out the background.
“I think the part that I think is crazy cool about what I do is how close I get to the animals, not just big ones, but the little ones, too,” she said in reply. “If it wasn’t for the camera and equipment, I would not have that kind of access with these creatures. And there is something absolutely mind boggling to be that close to them.”
Above all else, Francois enjoys the non-verbal communication with the animals.
“You have to convey something calming and non-menacing to an animal that could very easily spooked and attack,” she said. “I think that’s what the draw is for me. It pulls out a primordial, instinctual non-verbal communication connection with these animals. It’s goose-bumpy.”
An artist reception for photographer Nine Francois new exhibit “Animalia II” opening will be held from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17, at Julie Nester Gallery, 1280 Iron Horse Drive. The event is free and open to the public. For information, visit http://www.julienestergallery.com.
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