Watching the birdie

Photographing ‘soar points’ – the sky’s the limit for Tel Aviv’s Art Market exhibition

Sand partridge family, metallic paper and perspex, one of Shlomo Waldmann’s photos from the ‘Unseen Birds’ exhibit (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sand partridge family, metallic paper and perspex, one of Shlomo Waldmann’s photos from the ‘Unseen Birds’ exhibit
(photo credit: Courtesy)
We all have our quirks of varying degrees of intensity, but when impulsive behavior goes up a couple of notches and takes on a more sustained nature, inclination becomes more of an obsession than a whim.
Shlomo Waldmann freely admits that he is driven by his desire to get striking shots of wildlife – generally of the feathered kind. This is more than amply demonstrated by his trek to the other side of the world to photograph bald eagles in Haines, Alaska. The impressive results of that 10,000-km.
jaunt can be seen at Waldmann’s new exhibition, which runs at the Art Market space in Tel Aviv until October 29.
The show goes by the wordy title of “Unseen Birds, Hidden Well, and Nature Imprinted in the Heart,” which, says Waldmann, spells out much of his creative-documentation ethos. “I love nature,” states the 64-year-old photographer who, when he’s not out and about trying to capture some elusive creature, works in the financial investment sector. “I also love flowers and fruit trees; I have a fruit-tree grove near my house, and a greenhouse.”
Prior to our rendezvous, Waldmann took a circuitous route to his photograph- festooned office in Or Yehuda, hoping to get a few memorable frames of some pelicans, which, he had been reliably informed, had taken up temporary residence at a reservoir in the area. “I got up at 5 a.m. and went to the reservoir,” he says. “The place is fenced off and the public is not allowed in, but they know me and they let me in to take photographs.” But not all of Waldmann’s expeditions deliver the goods. “I didn’t get the pictures I was trying for,” he says with an air of resignation. “But that’s just the way it goes. Sometimes you succeed, and sometimes you don’t.”
Waldmann says he has been attuned from the cradle to Mother Nature and her treasures. “I grew up in a small neighborhood of Bnei Brak, with little houses and lots of fields – that was long before they built the Coca-Cola plant and Mayanei HaYeshua [Medical Center]. It was called District E. I lived there until I got married, and I spent a lot of my time running around nature.”
He also received some paternal help with mastering the art of documenting the flora and fauna around him.
“I always had cameras. My father was a dedicated follower of all the latest technological innovations. He’d buy new cameras and give them to me. He didn’t really have an interest in photography himself. He wasn’t an expert at photography. He liked to buy cameras.”
That afforded the lucky youngster an excellent platform from which to launch his eventual bird-centric photographic pursuit. “My first SLR camera, about 40 years ago, was a Canon AE1 (which was manufactured in Japan from 1976 to 1984),” Waldmann recalls. The youngster clearly inherited his father’s penchant for keeping up with the times and, when digital cameras came in, he made sure he was on the first digital photography training course offered by the Camera Obscura Art School in Tel Aviv.
Waldmann was well on board the hi-tech photography train, and soon got involved in the Chevreh website.
“That was a sort of social network site, before Facebook, and we used it to transfer digital photographs to Agfa, instead of going to the photography shop with film. We’d send the prints to people’s homes.”
Although Waldmann waxes on happily about his childhood and early efforts at producing quality photographic works, he says he is not nostalgic about the camera techniques of yore. “I don’t miss camera film at all.
Now I come back from an hour or two of taking photographs with 800 pictures; you can’t do that with film.”
Naturally, Waldmann has stateof- the-art equipment at his service.
“I can take 14 frames a second,” he notes. “That helps a lot when you want to capture a moment.” It certainly does, and the large prints on his office walls, and in a couple of tomes lying around in his office are aesthetically pleasing evidence of the efficacy of his gear and the nimbleness of his eye.
Even so, he had to traverse a steep learning curve to get to where he is today. A seasoned professional saw Waldmann’s shots on a photographers’ website and advised him that he could do better. “I was pretty amateurish back then, and he suggested that I join him on his photography trips. I went with him and learned how to take pictures of birds. Yaki Zander is my bird photography mentor.
I have learned a lot from him, and I’m still learning.”
Besides plane-hopping to far-flung and exotic locations around the world, Waldmann travels up and down the country in search of feathered wonders.
A special cellphone application allows him to stay abreast of developments in the field, such as the advent of large flocks of migrating birds crossing the Middle East, and also updates on floods and other natural phenomena.
One relatively remote spot in this country that he frequents is a special birdwatching facility at the tiny village of Ezuz, near Nitzana in the Negev. “A woman there maintains a watering place and she set up a hiding spot for bird watchers and photographers,” Waldmann explains. “I have taken some really good photographs there.”
Natural talent is important, but you have to master a multitude of technical aspects too, says Waldmann. “You have to know what camera gear to buy. You have to know how to set it up, and how to take pictures. And you need good locations and facilities for taking pictures, like the one at Ezuz.”
There are quite a few such photography stations around the countryside.
“You see that shot of the bulbul?” asks Waldmann, pointing at splendid print on the wall by his office desk. “You can’t just saunter along, say, a country road and catch a shot like that. You need to camp down in a concealed place and take your time. You need intelligence reports about where to find the different kinds of birds, and you need a lot of patience.”
Waldmann keeps some of his cards firmly affixed to his chest. “You see that picture of a spotted eagle? I know where I can find spotted eagles and get great pictures of them. I keep that a secret.”
Waldmann’s forthcoming exhibition also includes a fun shot of a sand partridge with a seemingly endless line of offspring. “They’re not all her chicks,” he explains. “The sand partridges have a sort of social arrangement whereby one mother takes care of her own chicks and others for a while.” Biological progeny or not, the lineup makes for an entertaining spread.
Waldmann has clearly made great strides since those insouciant early shot-snapping forays back in the fields of District E. The regard in which his work is now held is also indicated by the stellar roster lined up for yesterday’s opening event, which featured internationally renowned philosopher and linguist Prof. Asa Kasher, world-famous artist David Gerstein and veteran songstress Shuli Natan.
Waldmann is particularly pleased about Gerstein’s stamp of approval. The Gerstein thumbs-up will go much further than his opening remarks at yesterday’s opener. “Dudu [Gerstein] really liked my photograph of the bulbul at the nandina plant,” says Waldmann proudly, “and he said he wants to make a metal sculpture based on the photograph. That’s amazing for me, that such an illustrious artist appreciates my work.”
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