Tom Mangelsen unveils collection in Kirkland visit

He was here and how he's gone. Perhaps to one of his 17 galleries across the country. Or, more likely, back to the wilderness he loves so much, quietly moving through the fluttering aspens in Colorado or trodding over hardpack snow in the Tetons, armed with his backpack and cameras and a deep passion for the natural world.

Tom Mangelsen, founder and owner of Thomas D. Mangelsen's Images of Nature Gallery on Central Way, is an internationally acclaimed photographer. This past year he was named one of the 100 most important people in photography by American Photo Magazine and was honored by Nikon. His work has been featured in too many publications to list and on nearly as many TV programs. And possibly his biggest claim to fame is that none of his work is computer enhanced.

Visits galleries yearly

The fact that he returned to his Kirkland gallery for a visit and personal signings in early November was momentous - but it was ceremoniously unceremonious, as is befitting his demeanor. Over a period of six frenetic weeks, Mangelsen dutifully makes the yearly rounds to each gallery, most of which are in the western states.

The visit to Kirkland coincided with his release of 21 new images. Judging by patrons' faces and reactions when they walked in and recognized him, Mangelsen's appearance was nothing short of the magnitude of Al Gore stumping at the Triple J in 2000.

Fame and fortune aside, Mangelsen has adopted many of the instinctual, quiescent and sometimes enigmatic qualities of the animals he photographs. Sitting on the couch in his gallery in front of the fireplace, Mangelsen exuded a satisfied serenity borrowed from any one of his prints surrounding him. Yet this is a man who persistently followed his dream at capturing the brilliance of nature.

Nebraska roots

Mangelsen grew up in Grand Island, Nebraska, and from the age of one was toted along with his dad on hunting trips. "My dad was an avid hunter and fisherman. I spent a lot of time in the field with him, waiting for flocks of geese and ducks," he said. At the risk of sounding Hitchockian, birds would remain a significant part of his life and would become the focus of much of his photographic work as a young man.

Mangelsen attended the University of Nebraska for both undergraduate and graduate studies. He got his first camera at 21 - a Pentax a buddy brought back from Vietnam. At grad school, his adviser and pre-eminent waterfowl expert, Paul Johnsgard, took him under his wing and brought Mangelsen to his cabin on the Platte River in Nebraska.

This famed waterway crosses the North Amerian Central Flyway and is part of the Middle Platte Region, considered one of nature's great crossroads. Millions of waterfowl pass through the region on their annual migration. It was clear to Mangelsen that nature photography was his calling.

"After grad school, I tried to figure out how to sell my stuff. I sold pieces here and there ... at art fairs, craft fairs," he said. But it was an unsustainable life and he moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he lived a "semi-hermit life, in a one-room shack with my dogs.

"Then I met a man in Boulder," he continues, "and he hired me as a cameraman, filming animal behavior for high school films. My first real job was in cinematography."

But his heart was in still photography - he traveled to Colorado, Wyoming and Utah to capture the spirit of the West. Wildlife photography," he explained, "is a stepchild to wildlife art. I realized I had to do my own thing. Traditional galleries aren't doing it."

It was in Jackson, Wyoming, in 1978 that Mangelsen opened his first gallery. It was an unpretentious 300-square-foot space. But his work sprouted legs and things started happening. In 1986, he opened what he calls his "first real gallery" in Park City, Utah. He has opened a gallery each year since 1988.

How big is too big? He says he'll probably open up one or two more. "I've always told myself, if I get too busy and I'm doing too much marketing, then I've gotten too big. If I didn't have enough time to take my pictures, then I'd back off. I'm fortunate. Every one of the people I have working for me is great. They're totally supportive of letting me stay in the field."

Which is what he does, six to eight months out of the year. He camps out (especially when shooting in "Nowheresville, Alaska"), lives in tented camps in Africa or stays in cabins. Seventy percent of his work is done in film, the rest is digital, including the new and already acclaimed "Guardian of Knight Inlet," (see page 17).

For this early-afternoon shot in British Columbia, he was quietly drifting in a boat, waiting in the rain for the bear to climb up the rockface. There was low light and low contrast, conditions where digital is a superior medium.

"My goal is to have enough galleries to support what we're doing. I want to make sure the galleries have my best work, the employees are well-trained about natural history. Environmental issues are very important to me," he said.

Mangelsen talks about the prospect of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration and drilling and shakes his head. "There's no rationale." (The proposal for drilling was axed Nov. 10; activists are cautiously optimistic.) Over the past five years, Mangelsen has publicly ramped up his role as a nature activist and advocate - his name and work do their part to attract donors.

You will see his name on the bottom of the Cougar Fund homepage and photos throughout. (See

In addition, Mangelsen has become fast friends with Jane Goodall, and recently photographed the famous animal activist for her new book . Mangelsen says she is "probably the most important force in global environmental protection. She does four to five lectures a week, all over the world. She ought to get the Nobel Peace Prize," he said. (See

Over the course of 30 years, the humble boy from the nation's breadbasket has made quite a name for himself, and is now using it philanthropically to help protect the voiceless natural landscape so sacred to him. "Photography is my life," he says, "but I'm also concerned about the direction the world is going."[[In-content Ad]]