|The Call of the Wild|
A time-lapse look at stars in the mountains. Photo © Art Wolfe.
Never one to lack confidence, Wolfe started selling his photos at street fairs. Then he showed them to his mountain climbing instructor, who just happened to be the head of The Mountaineers Books. A year later, he was working on his first book, Indian Baskets of the Northwest Coast. Then came an $11,000 government contract to photograph wildlife in the U.S.
Then came magazine stories, magazine covers, books, calendars, museum exhibitions and a 25-year career in which Art Wolfe established himself as one of the most renowned nature photographers of our time. Now living in a gorgeous, split-level West Seattle home with a killer view of Puget Sound--a half-mile from where he grew up and a mile from where he was born--Wolfe employs a full-time staff of 14 that runs his business while he is globetrotting, and that he considers his extended family.
"I never had a plan," says Wolfe, 47, who's single, and is being interviewed at home in between overseas trips to shoot photos for a new series of books. "I just developed a viable occupation. I made a lucky connection in the beginning, and it was a new profession. There weren't a lot of fine-art nature photographers then, mostly naturalists who took photos. I just took the opportunity at the right time, started selling photographs and never looked back."
While his photographs are stunning, his resounding success is equally attributable to his ability to sell himself and his ideas.
"His energy level is amazing," says Barbara Sleeper, '72, '91, a Seattle science writer who has worked on three books with Wolfe. "He has so many ideas and sees so many possibilities, he makes you feel exhausted. Very inspiring, but creatively exhausting."
It's that enthusiasm and devotion to his craft--"I don't take a day off," he says matter-of-factly-that has made him what he is today. On the road nine months a year, he travels to remote regions of the world, shoots 2,000 rolls of film a year and is booked a year and a half in advance. "I get addicted to travel, addicted to anticipating my shots," he says. "I become a junkie with film."
His nature was evident while he was a student at the UW. A graduate of Sealth High School, he spent a year at Highline Community College before transferring to the UW. A talented and prolific watercolor painter, he produced abstract, outdoors-oriented paintings, but was probably more well-known for donating a used refrigerator to the painting students' studio--and his strong personality.
"He was very memorable," says Hazel Koenig, one of his art education instructors. "He was very aggressive in class and questioned things all the time. He had quite a personality." Wolfe's view: "I am sure the teachers hated me. I was a devil in class. I was always questioning authority. I'm sure they wanted to kill me."
Yet he got along well with his instructors and soaked up everything he could. In was in art school that Wolfe--whose first commissioned painting for a junior high school teacher netted him $22--learned the finer points of design, abstraction and pattern.