Flip Nicklin – Among Giants: A Life with Whales

With two successful conservation photography planetarium shows already under my belt, I was hungry for another one. I wouldn’t have to wait long. In 2015 the Academy was to host an Australian traveling exhibit called “Whales: Giants of the Deep”. The education team was being asked to come up with some programs to engage our visitors with which would compliment the conservation messages of the exhibit. I immediately proposed another dome show that would drop the viewers underwater so they could experience what it was like to swim with whales. I reached out to National Geographic photographer and marine biologist Flip Nicklin to propose the show. Spurred by the knowledge that both Florian and Art had done these shows in the past, he quickly agreed and production was underway. Please refer to the description below to see the conservation stories we were able to tell with the help of Flip Nicklin.

Program Description: Presented in May 2015

Join us for an evening where we will fully immerse you inside a sequence of images presented on the Morrison Planetarium’s 75 foot all digital dome. You will experience a tour through the world’s great oceans following one scientist as he chases whales in the pursuit of knowledge. As a leading expert on cetaceans, marine biologist Flip Nicklin dives into the ocean’s depths to swim with and study whales around the world. Cetaceans include dolphins, porpoises and whales and Flip has made stunning images of these magical ocean animals that are sure to take your breath away.

Among Giants tells the story of Nicklin’s life and career on the high seas, from his first ill-equipped shoots in the mid-1970s through his long association with the National Geographic Society to the present. Nicklin is equal parts photographer, adventurer, self-trained scientist, and raconteur, and Among Giants reflects all those sides, matching breathtaking images to firsthand accounts of their making, and highlighting throughout the importance of conservation and new advances in our understanding of whale behavior. With Nicklin as our guide, we see not just whales but also our slowly growing understanding of their hidden lives, as well as the evolution of underwater photography—and the stunning clarity and drama that can be captured when a determined, daring diver is behind the lens. Nicklin’s photographs bring us so completely into the underwater world of whales that we can’t help but feel awe, while winning, personal accounts of his adventures remind us of what it’s like to be a lone diver sharing their sea.

For anyone who has marveled at the majesty of whales in the wild, Among Giants is guaranteed to be inspiring, even moving—its unmatched images of these glorious beings an inescapable reminder of our responsibility as stewards of the ocean. Book signing to follow the dome presentation.


Florian Schulz: To the Artic

In late 2012, while working at the California Academy of Sciences, I received a call from the famed German conservation photographer Florian Schulz. He passionately wanted to come to the Academy to give a talk about the Arctic region to help people better understand this part of the world. He explained that the region was under threat from oil extraction and that the prevailing rhetoric to support this effort was painting the Arctic as a white wasteland with nothing up there but oil. The oil industry folks carried forth the message that it would benefit people while doing harm to nothing… because there was nothing out there. Florian was determined to set the record straight.

The challenge for me as the lectures host was how to create a visceral experience for the audience that would reach them in the same way that being in this part of the world did for Florian. The lectures venue at the Academy was in the 4,000 square foot African Hall – a room filled with dioramas that lined the outside of the room. How could we possibly connect with this audience about the issues of the Arctic while sitting in Africa?

I then approached the planetarium team with the idea that we could adapt Florian’s images to the dome and immerse the audience inside the images. Using planetarium software, we could start them in San Francisco, zoom out into space hovering over the Earth, rotate the Earth on the dome in front of them and then show them an outline of the region we would be discussing for the night. From there, we began to descend down from space onto the surface of the Earth until we transitioned into an image of Florian’s. Yes, into the image. At this point, we were sitting in the dome surround by the images looking at scenes such a polar bears walking down off of glaciers towards us as we sat in our dingy in the Ocean.

The impact was instant. It was deep. It was visceral. We paired Florian’s talk with a brief introduction and conclusion from the President of Earth Justice, an environmental protection organization that works on legal issues for the natural world. The inform, inspire, empower model of engagement was undeniable as a successful way of talking about pressing environmental issues without hitting the helplessness off button the is often the result of too much doom and gloom messaging. See the listing from that evening below.

Program Description: Presented March 2013

After a year and a half braving the bone-chilling temperatures in the Arctic, living among the polar bears and diving beneath icebergs, conservation photographer Florian Schulz came away with a stunning portfolio of images and a detailed look at arctic ecology that captures the imagination and reveals stories of a complex ecological environment rarely seen to this degree. Florian Schulz will take you on a tour of this his conservation work by being the first to ever use our full digital dome for a Pritzker member lecture while discussing how polar bears, walruses, and other marine species depend on the Arctic ice for feeding, resting, and denning. Conservation photography is a powerful tool for digital storytelling and this presentation is sure to inform and inspire us all. We will get a glimpse into the complexity of life in this challenging climate as well as a better understanding of how life here is inevitably linked to life in the Arctic. Florian Schulz is a fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) and one of the best nature photographers in the world. The images from this project and his personal accounts are chronicled in the IMAX 3D movie, “To The Arctic” and in a book by the same title. A book signing will follow the presentation.


Art Wolfe: Earth is my Witness

In late 2013, I was sitting in a committee meeting at the Academy when my phone rang. I snuck a peek to see who it was only to see a Seattle-based phone number that I didn’t recognize. I didn’t answer it. After the meeting, I went out into the hall to find that the person had left me a voice message. I dialed into my box and heard the following message: “Hello Gary, this is Art Wolfe. I heard about the recent planetarium show you did with Florian Schulz, and I wondered if I could bounce some ideas off of you….” I couldn’t believe it. Art Wolfe was calling me! It turned out that we had a mutual friend who had attended Florian’s talk and told Art all about it.

A few hours later, I found myself sitting next to Art in the planetarium as he took in a private viewing of Florian’s full dome sequences. In the middle of the screening, I looked over to see how he was responding to it. He was sitting on the edge of his seat, not moving and with no facial expression at all. I started to think of what it must be like as an artist to see these images depicted in this way. This was a project of collaboration as the final image on the dome was about half the photographer’s and half our adaptation and extension to make the image work on a full dome environment. The audience loved it, but I could not help but wonder whether he would feel that it retained enough of the essence and intention of the artist?

As the lights came back up, I was prepared to show him the full production cycle of an image so he could see how we made this experience work. I called out to the tech to bring up the sequence and Art said “No. There’s no need.” My heart skipped a beat. He turned to me and said, with a very serious face, “It’s wonderful. I’m in…” and 20 minutes later we were sitting with the visualization producer in a meeting as Art explained that he had a new book coming out which covered his life’s work. He put a hard drive on the table that he said contained 10,000 images of which a couple 100 would end up in a book project called “Earth is my Witness”. He pushed the drive across the table and said: “do whatever you want, I trust you”. And a full dome show based on his life’s work for conservation was underway. See below for a description of the program we presented based on that effort.

Program Description: Presented October 2014

For almost fifty years, world-renowned photographer Art Wolfe has been capturing the beauty of the planet’s stunning landscapes, wildlife, and cultures from every continent. In Earth Is My Witness, Wolfe presents an encyclopedic selection of his photography along with intimate stories about his encounters that exemplify his boundless curiosity about the world. From the rich sights and smells of the Pushkar Camel Fair to the moment when a polar bear and her cubs leave their arctic den, these images represent what Wolfe has lived for: the instants when circumstance, light, and subject miraculously collide to form an iconic photograph. Together, these images and the stories behind them explore the delicate interconnectivity of life across our planet. In this presentation we will immerse the viewer inside a sequence of Wolfe’s images presented on the Morrison Planetarium’s 75 foot all digital dome. You will experience a tour through the world’s great landscapes, wildlife and cultural festivities to get a sense of what it’s like to be Art Wolfe as he travels the globe making images of captivating moments in time. Book signing to follow.