Stalking “charismatic megafauna” with camera in hand may sound like a job for the paparazzi, but these superstars of the natural world the lions and tigers and bears that serve as the “poster children” for environmentalism – are even more camera-shy than royals on a secret getaway to the Maldives. For wildlife photographer Gerald Krausse, that means a lot of hours out in the woods trying to be stealthy and patient enough to get the elusive “money shot” of animals doing what they naturally do, without any influence from man.
“More often than not, it’s a waiting game with nothing to show for. But I never look at it that way,” says Krausse, 75, who took up photography and videography about a decade ago after retiring from a career as a professor at URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS). “In nature, where everything is random and unpredictable, one cannot go on a shoot with any expectations and or goals in mind – otherwise, disappointment will get you every time.”
Wildlife photography is actually Krausse’s third career: he worked as a pastry chef before getting his masters in geography and moving to Rhode Island in the mid-1970s. “I have always been very visual in everything I do,” he says. “In my publications I have always included maps and have used a lot of my own slides and visual handouts in my classes. During my research trips to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, I used photography as an important research tool and for class use.”
Studying and teaching geography and cartography fed Krausse’s interest in the interrelationship between man and nature, and he decided to focus on video rather than photography because it incorporated motion and sound – it added challenges that photographers don’t have to contend with.
“While I was still working, I went out to do some filming here and there, mostly around my neighborhood and then in Rhode Island at large,” says Krausse. “I started with simple cameras and easy subjects – vegetation, scenery and weather – that are easy to approach and will ‘stay there.’ Over time, and with some experience, I have moved on to more difficult and fleeting subjects, such as wildlife.”
Krausse produced his first video in 2006, documenting 75 local species including small mammals, birds, insects and amphibians, all shot in the National Wildlife Refuges of Rhode Island, including Trustom Pond, Ninigret Pond and Sachuest Point. As his skills have grown, so have the size of his subjects and the scope of his projects. Currently, Krausse is working on films about black bears in Maine and the maritime birds of Narragansett Bay, among others. All are multi-year efforts involving countless hours spent in the field as well as editing and production.
In his work, Krausse tries to improve understanding about his subjects, highlight public involvement in the species (such as protection, volunteerism and recreation), and explore ongoing research and management issues. “Teaching is still in my blood, except now it’s more on an informal level rather than in the classroom,” he says. “I am very passionate in what I do. Otherwise, nobody would go though the trials and tribulations required to complete these projects. Patience, persistence and a lot of torture are required to get commercially valuable footage.”
For Krausse, however, it’s all made worthwhile when he gets that perfect shot and has the opportunity to share his work with the public, whether that’s through sales of his videos at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center in Charlestown or during presentations at hospitals, schools and nursing homes organized through the URI Speakers Bureau. There’s also satisfaction in partnering with environmental groups to raise awareness of the often overlooked and underappreciated natural world around us.
“People always ask me what I do during my retirement,” he says. “So far, it’s been the best time of my life. I do what I love, I can be creative, I can work alone, I might inspire others to become stewards of the environment, I have the time to do this kind of work, and I make a bit of money in the process.”