Many consider that the definitive work on photography in the 20th century was perhaps written by the late Susan Sontag. It is a bold claim as there is a great deal of competition for that accolade, but her essay was translated into 32 different languages, so I guess it is up there.

I finally read it on a plane this summer and was fairly spellbound. To shorten one little paragraph: “Photography is as widely practised an amusement as sex or dancing – which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as art. It is mainly a social rite of family life and a way of certifying an experience.” Susan wrote before animal photography became mainstream – whether it be conducted in the back garden with the family dog or with zebra on the plains of the Serengeti. Either way the paragraph largely holds true.

This image of a mountain lion was taken under controlled conditions in the hills of Montana and therefore it is not certifying an experience – it is creating an experience. I have not taken this photograph – I have made this photograph.

It is not an authentic wildlife photograph and makes no claims to be so. I started with a preconception of what I wanted to achieve – an intimate portrait of an aggressive cougar and worked backwards from there. Ideally, I wanted a degree of facial detail that would normallyonly be attained in a studio with a tame mountain lion. The hills in North East Montana are a long way from any studio, but the mountain lion largely responded to his carer and that offered the opportunity.

Immersive photography or cinematography offers a better chance to emotionally engage the viewer. The greater the proximity between the subject and camera, the greater the chance of finding the soul of the subject – whether it be a cat or a human. The shorter the lens, the greater the chance of emotion and drama and the lower the light, the better the canvas on which to paint.

There were a number of factors at play – but the goal was simple – to convey the soul of Smokey – the mountain lion.

Available sizes:

  • Large: 67 x 106 inches
  • Standard: 48 x 73 inches

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