Clyde Elmore: Art in the Wild

By From page A9 | July 25, 2014

His day begins shortly after sunrise, or sooner, if he has a particular place in mind.

Clyde Elmore is out on safari in Africa, looking for his favorite animal to photograph: the cheetah.

“Cheetahs hunt by eye in pastures or open land where the grasses aren’t too high,” says the Davis photographer. “Sometimes, they’ll even get on the hood of the Jeep for a better vantage point, but if they haven’t made a kill in the last two days, then you don’t want to get too close.”

In his 50 years of photography experience, Elmore has photographed on every continent except Antarctica and is bringing his latest exhibit, which runs through Aug. 31, to the Buehler Alumni & Visitors Center at UC Davis.

The exhibit, “Our Great Outdoors,” features selected images of birds, animals and landscapes from Africa and North America. Visitors can be transported from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to a moonbow display in Yosemite National Park.

Growing up on a farm in northwest Oklahoma, Elmore always was infatuated with the outdoors. After attending Oklahoma State University and earning a master’s degree in agronomy, he was hired as a farm adviser for UCD where he completed his doctorate in botany.

“The first 38 years of my photographic career were focused on botany,” Elmore says. “(Plants) can be easier to photograph at times than animals, unless it’s windy.”

In fact, Elmore didn’t even begin incorporating photography into his career until he arrived here at the university.

“I used photography primarily as documentation and for giving presentations through my career,” he says. “I’ve taken many slides of flowers, weeds and all kinds of things. A couple of years before I was going to retire, I decided to spend a lot of time reading to studying up on animals and got into the field.”

Now in his fifth consecutive year mounting an exhibit at the Alumni Center, Elmore was thrilled he was able to return to Africa.

“Tourism is a great part of the economy in Africa and they have some of the best guides in the world,” he says. “They know how to get you close without being too close so the animals are still able to hunt.”

The arid, Saharan terrain from Elmore’s African half of the exhibit can quickly transition to a snowy landscape in the middle of a forest.

“I like working in the winter with animals, primarily because they have a great coat,” he says. “They’re looking their prime plus it gives you all sorts of opportunities for contrast.”

Even with the advent of newer, professional-caliber cameras that are more readily available than ever before, there are still intangible skills Elmore and other photographers can’t teach.
“My philosophy is if you take the right picture in the field, you don’t need to work with Photoshop,” Elmore says. “These photos are pretty much as is, so it just means you spend more time and work getting the image as you want it when it’s ready to present.”

Aside from photographing in Antarctica, Elmore still has one more animal left on his checklist: the brown hyena of South Africa.

“Not too many people get to go on safari and see these animals in person,” Elmore says. “I think of it as a National Geographic of sorts.”

Next on his list: Tanzania in September followed by Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in December.

“Wherever I am is really my favorite place to be; there are opportunities everywhere.”

Evan Arnold-Gordon

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