Last Thursday, the Spirit Room hosted North Dakota fine art photographer Beth Wold in a reception and artist talk for her exhibition in Gallery 2. Though these photos of cheetahs, elephants, zebras, and other animals were taken during a three-week trip to South Africa, from the safety of an SUV tour car, it was actually familiar territory for Wold, whose family moved to South Africa when she was four years old.
During her artist talk, Wold related a story of a family vacation to Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves.
“As a five-year-old, I got bored after a while and was lying down in the seat of the car, and sure enough I saw a leopard sitting up in a tree… I think I yelled, ‘Lion,’ ‘Cheetah,’ ‘Kitty—I didn’t know what it was–but right about then was when I was hooked on wildlife, especially the big cats.”
Her love of photography came later on, during one of her annual trips to South Africa about twelve years ago. In addition to artistic expression, photography is a means of activism for Wold, who donates 25 percent of proceeds from her cheetah photographs to help wild cheetahs in Namibia.
“I’m very interested in things that have to do with conservation,” she said. “It matters that there’s places that these animals can be and survive.”
These photos are surprisingly intimate, as they mostly capture animals looking off to the distance, interacting with their surroundings while oblivious to the camera. For example, in “Cheetah Portrait,” something off-camera has caught the cheetah’s attention, and the black-and-white contrast brings out the cheetah’s finer features: the steady, contemplative gaze, the texture of the fur, and the relaxed jawline.
A close-up shot of an old elephant, entitled “Elephant II,” was used to advertise this event, and is one of the few photos where the animal makes eye contact. The elephant’s craggy skin and worn-down tusks—which could have sustained damage in fights with other males—show his age; an example of how much longer wild elephants live as opposed to their captive counterparts.
Wold also has her share of landscape photos, such as “Two Rhinos at Umfolozi,” where the clouds take up much of the space, and viewers must take a closer look to see the rhinos at the bottom of this wide expanse. Similarly, in “Zebras at Umfolozi,” the viewer’s eye first goes to the wide expanse of sky and then casts down to find the herd of zebras running across the field.
“Growing up in such a beautiful country, it’s kind of hard not to be interested in the landscape,” Wold said.
Wold subscribes to a minimalist approach to photography, and values negative space as much as she does the subject. This is apparent in pieces such as “Abstract Zebra,” where the blurred field in the background takes up much of the photo, though the zebra itself is the focus. A similar method is seen in “Elephant,” where the elephant takes up about a third of the photograph, and the rest is forest.
These photos will be on display until September 27.
Images, from top: “Zebra V”, courtesy of Beth Wold; “In Africa” gallery installation, photo by the author; “Lioness” courtesy of Beth Wold.