November 22nd, 1994 December 4th, 1994
Instead of the 6kg 4,0/600 mm AF Nikon lens, I took the new "only" 4 kg heavy 4,0/500 mm AF Nikkor with me for the first time on this tour, together with the two AF 1,4x and 2x converters as well as the new Nikon F 90x, which has a lot faster correctional AF as the previous F 90 (about 4 pictures per second with automatically corrected sharpness), and which has a better AF in comparison to the F4, which may be interesting for pictures of hunting or fast running animals and during use of the AF converter.
Since the Nikkor 4,0/500 mm is very light intensive for this focal length, the 1,4x converter works in any case with auto focus so that I still get a 5,6/700 mm AF lens. At home during the rainy German November, I sometimes even worked with the 2x AF converter , so that I am hoping in sunny bright Kenya it will work even better yet. That would be quite a thing if both converters would work with the AF function. Let´s see what is better and more agreeable in Africa: the 4,0/500 mm AF lens at 4 kg or a 4,0/600 mm AF with 6 kg.
The difference may not be so grave in Africa we´ll see since the lens has to barely be carried at all, but is always in the car on the seat beside you. During all the other travel that I´m sure of I will only take the 500 mm. Two weeks ago I tried it on the Lynx in the Bavarian Forest National Park and it was a lot more comfortable to work with than the 600 mm. Last January I was shooting Alligators in southern Florida and remember I virtually hated this 600 mm in reference to the weight, and in turn the awkwardness and slowness. After a few days I did´nt use it at all any more, but rather took the 3,5/400 mm MF lens with the 1,4x converter instead of the 600 mm AF which actually is not really right either. I am anxious to see what my opinion will be at the end of this tour......
What is fascinating is how book concepts during the actual work on it, in the course of 1 ½ years change: at first my plan was to do a nice big picture book from the course of a year in the Masai Mara. Then the Leopard mother with her kids came along and imperiously demanded a book of her own, which in turn pushed itself further and further to the top of the list of priorities during the course of the months. Later I changed the concept for the Mara book from the cycle of a year to a description of wildlife communities.
So this 9th tour is to be the last for both books and so I taped the lay outs for them before I started out, in order to see what is missing and what is still necessary to be photographed. The Leopard book is to be a book of illustrations in production and format just as the book on Cheetahs in 1993 that I did together with Norbet Rosing. I left some blank pages in the lay out and if there is nothing much on this tour that is dramatic or sensational in reference to the Leopard family, then the picture book will have somewhere between 144 and 148 pages. I reduced the book on the Mara drastically in format and volume: in the meantime we certainly have about three to four hundred thousand visitors, but unfortunately they stay only about 2 3 days on the average, because they are on a guided tour through the parks of Kenya. Certainly they won´t very well spend DM 100,- for a book of illustrations, not to mention dragging it around with them for the rest of their vacation. That is why I have changed the lay out of the Mara book to a smaller, almost square format and reduced the number of pages to 80, so that it can be offered at a price of DM 29,80, a price which allows a spontaneous buy in the book stores and the 17 camps and lodges of the Mara rather than for a large and expensive book. The situation is a bit different with the Leopard book: this is a book for those seriously interested, not just short term tourists, but for visitors of the Mara who stay longer and have a deeper and greater interest, a book for all people in the whole world who are deeply interested in these great independent felines.
There is something I definitely have to photograph on this tour: the Maasai. It is hard to do a book of illustrations on the Masai Mara without showing the people who are at home there. However I have my problems on this point for my book.
One of the most popular tourist postcards is the subject of the bare breasted, dancing Maasai girls. Under no circumstances do I want this to be in my book. I have two very nice reflecting stories to this:
John Huston made a movie with Marilyn Monroe and the late Clark Gable called "Misfits". It was the somewhat sad story of the last of the cowboys and wild mustangs and of course with a bed scene, you can´t make a movie anymore without one. In that, M.M. tried continuously to pull the covers down so far so that you could see her breasts and Huston kept hindering her from doing so. Later he explained with the rather rude comment of: " I am not going to let Marilyn ´s tits ruin my movie!"
The director van Ackeren reacted similar on his movie where there was to be a scene during the first third of the film in which the call girl played by Gudrun Landgrebe was to put a condom on a customer of hers. The scene was shot and finished, but the director hat it cut out of the movie for the following reason: "With such an explosive scene in the first half hour, the rest of the movie is shot. No one would be interested in the rest of the movie."
Now of course I certainly don´t want to compare my little book of illustrations with these world famous movies, but such pictures of Maasai girls would certainly disturb the balance of the book and would not be appropriate in this situation, since the Maasai do not live a folklore life in reality and their future certainly is everything but rosy.
For the Maasai, the way they live today, I reserved a double page: to the right an aerial of a Manyatta, which shows that the Maasai certainly still live partially in such residential formations as did their forefathers and to the left a typical picture of the people themselves. Precisely not a picture of a young optimistic, happy, beaming and slightly erotic Maasai girl, but rather an archaic picture, in tune with the situation of the Maasai, but yet photographically expressive. That is why I will try and take a picture of a Maasai with his speer, because this weapon is part of him like the briefcase is of a businessman. Maybe at sunrise, but not too romantic, with a totally red sky as background. That would be inappropriate and would just falsify his situation. What I am thinking about is the Maasai in front of a dark mournful sky with a hint of a sunrise as a symbol for the fact that not all hope for the future of these people are lost, but that the tendency does seem rather negative.
at 5.30am I finally took the picture of the Maasai
Unfortunately the night before last a Lion killed the one year old daughter of the female Leopard that I had been taking pictures of for so long. We found the little Leopard early in the morning and about 11am her mother actually came back to her dead daughter. A very moving and emotional moment. (Leopard, page 145).
December 4th, 1994
The 4.0/500 mm with the F90x and the two AF converters 1,4x and 2,0x turned out to be extremely pleasant in their operation. The first shots I took with it were the Lynx in the Bavarian Forest National Park in October. I actually wanted to work with it at the end of October in Churchill with the Polar Bears, but unfortunately I had caught a rather bad cold and to top it of, the news that it was raining rather than snowing in Churchill, made me decide not fly. I would have been very interested in how the new AF system from the F90x would have worked with the white Polar Bears. Last time I was there was three years ago together with Norbert Rosing, Uwe Walz and Konarad Wothe and at that time the AF systems did not focus on the fur of the Polar Bears, not the Canon, Nikon or Minolta. Too bad, maybe it will work out next year. In any case, I will try using it during my trip to Florida on the 27th of December to the osprey in order to see how the AF responds to flying Eagles while using the 1,4x AF converter. ( There was a report on this published in issue 6/199 of the magazine FOTOGRAFIE DRAUSSEN which is now called NATURFOTO).
This morning the entrance to my tent was covered with thousands of termite wings. It had rained heavily yesterday and at about 11pm last night they started leaving their constructions to take to their wedding flight. Thousands flew against my tent wall in the night and it sounded as if it was raining which had stopped hours ago. A short time later, they threw off their wings and this morning the Mara River Camp was covered with tenth or hundreds of thousands termite wings. Africa is fantastic and a virtual wonderland for wildlife photographers.
I was able to close another two gaps on this trip: I was able to get a few real pretty shots of the wild "spoon-eared dog" and Serval Cat, the ones I had taken previously were not much to talk about. (Masai Mara, page 83).
By the way, I am writing this entire text on location in the Mara, in the evenings in my tent with a tiny PC (Palmtop). It is a Psion 3a (today you can get it as a Psion 5a) weighs only 300 gram and only needs two AA 1,5 volt batteries for energy, the same that we use for most of our cameras and flashes and it has a capacity of about 800 typewriter pages. So there is no way to fill it to maximum capacity during a trip and the two batteries last about two months. It really is a neat thing: you can use the 10 hours of flight sensibly and the "dead" hours around noon and in the evenings on location. When you get home, you transfer the text onto you office computer and can use the larger screen to reread and correct anything needed and just print it out.
So you get back from a tour and practically have finished writing everything down so that you just kick back, put your feet up on the desk at home and just let the world be. Fantastic technical progress does sometimes have its advantages.....
I was able to take some very pretty pictures in the last two days of the Leopard mother Paradise and her son Mang´aa, and now I am sitting in the "Lufthansa bird" on the way home. This is the best nightly flight I ever had in my life: It is practically free and I am sitting in first class this is the way wildlife photographers should always be able to fly. I think I have to have a serious talk with my agencies and editors. Maybe the proportions can be changed from 50:50 to 80:20 in favor of the photographer.
This wonderful flight was made possible through the following: If you fly frequently, you can accumulate the miles you fly and receive free flights. This way I did not have to pay for the flight Frankfurt Nairobi Frankfurt at all because I had more than 250.000 miles accumulated on my account. At the check-in counter in Nairobi, the LH check in agent asked me if I wanted to fly in first class, as there was a special promotion going at the time where you only had to pay $150,- to fly in first class. Well, I was not going to pass up the chance to fly in first class for that money from Nairobi to Frankfurt. Money certainly makes things a lot more comfortable. There certainly is no reason to feel sorry for people who have to travel continuously in first class..... Quintessence : you sleep a whole lot better in these super comfortable sleeper seats in first class as in the kiddy seats in bench class.
The entire flight back was a suitable and worthy finish for the rather time consuming project Masai Mara, which was able to be done with surprisingly less problems and hitches as expected. And what turned out in the end does´nt seem to be half bad either: A book of Leopard illustrations, a Masai Mara Book, a workshop book, a theme book together with Dr. Horst and Dr. Wally Hagen, quite a few pictures from that year I was able to use for the book about wildlife photography, which will be published in February of 1995, my agencies were fed extensively with slides from the wildlife of Africa and the pictures of the playing Leopards and the crocodile with the Grant Gazelle had already received prizes at the BBC contest in 1994.
The most successful picture up to this point from this project was the one where Beauty jumps into her mother´ s face (Leopards, page 31): KOSMOS published it on two pages, as well as DAS TIER and even National Geographic Magazine with 10 million monthly prints the largest and most important nature magazine in the world published it in their December issue of 1994.
Maybe I will write one more article about the year with the Leopards for nature magazines and circulate it, then I can turn to new projects. ( comments in January of 2000 : A new article on Leopards was published in Korea in GEO, issue 7/1996, in Spain in NATURA, issue 7/1996, in Great Britain in BBC-WILDLIFE, issue 9/1996, in Italy in OASIS, issue March/April 1997, in Austria in the NEUEN KRONEN ZEITUNG, March 17th 1996, and in Germany in the NEUEN REVUE, issue 6/1996, in TV-HÖREN UND SEHEN, issue 27, 1997, in KOSMOS issue 1/1997, in TERRA, issue 4/1999 and DAS TIER, issue 1/2000.
* * *