I was at least smart enough not to say what I thought I saw.
I’d just spotted an orange furry creature, standing in the middle of a field near my home in the New York’s Taconics. “A mini deer!” is what my city mind settled on at first, but then, just in time to avoid hours — years — of mocking from my husband, a newer, rural synapse connected in my brain: oh, a fox.
That was in broad daylight, but at night, wild animals are a mystery of a different order. They’re all shadows and reflected retinas.
Before the invention of flash photography, it was basically impossible to get a really good look at animals in the darkness — and the invention of the first flashes didn’t help help all that much, since animals didn’t exactly strike a pose after magnesium powder exploded in a flat pan.
Hobart V. Roberts, a hunter-turned-amateur photographer figured out how to do it. During his family’s summer vacations in the Adirondacks in the early 20th century, he invented various methods of photographing animals in their nightly adventures: he used multiple cameras and flashes to capture photographs of deer, birds and bears in their nightly rounds, he rigged trip wires so they animals could take their own photos. (That’s what the heron is doing in the photo below.)
The Adirondack Museum re-opens for the season on May 25th, and with it the final season of its small but powerful exhibit Night Vision: The Wildlife Photographer of Hobart V. Roberts.
Roberts photos were considered extraordinary when they were first published in the 1930s. And while multimedia, full color, live action extravaganzas of wildlife are widely available today, these elegant silver gelatin prints still retain a quiet magic.
The exhibit runs through October 14th, 2012.
All photographs courtesy of the Adirondack Museum.