Hiding in Plain Sight

Laura Helmuth and Art Wolfe in Smithsonian Magazine:

Wolfe_lionThe wildlife photographs that make us ooh and aah usually depict dramatic action. A lion digs its teeth into a zebra’s neck, buffaloes stampede through a cloud of dust, a pair of cranes strut out a mating dance—we like our animals highlighted at their most furious, frightened or amorous.

That’s rarely how they appear in nature, of course. Most of the time, they’re just trying to blend in. Photographer Art Wolfe, 53, has more than 60 books and plenty of wildlife action shots to his name, but in a new book, Vanishing Act, he defies conventions to show what he calls “animals’ incredible ability to vanish in plain sight.” In these photographs (taken in Kenya, South Africa, Panama, Malaysia and 21 other nations), the animals typically appear in the corner of the frame rather than the center, and some are partly obscured by plants. He further helps the subjects get lost by making both the foreground and background sharp. “Basically, I’m teasing the audience,” he says.

Wolfe_seal_1Ever since people thousands of years ago noted the uncanny trickery of animal camouflage, nature watchers have taken pains to understand it. Some animals’ color matches their favored habitat: plovers that feed in wet sand and muck have darker-brown backs than plover species that spend their time in dry, lighter-colored sand dunes. Some animals coordinate their look with the seasons, shedding dark fur or molting dark feathers once the snow flies. Certain sea creatures tint their skin with pigments from the corals they’ve eaten to take on the color of their home reef.

More here.