BEIRUT: From the polar bears of the Arctic to the tigers of India, few animals have escaped the eagle eye of Lebanese photographer Michel Zoghzoghi.
Zoghzoghi has been traveling the world for more than 15 years chronicling its natural beauty and highlighting endangered species. His latest exhibition, “Other Nations: A Journey Through Threatened Kingdoms,” which was hosted by the Dar El-Nimer gallery in Beirut earlier this month, carried a double appeal, though. Through the show, Zoghzoghi raised funds for the American University of Beirut Medical Center to help cancer patients in Lebanon.
Zoghzoghi’s work highlights the perfect balance of nature, and shows us what we are in danger of losing. “I want to show how beautiful predatory animals are and how extraordinary the nature in which they live is,” he told Arab News. “But my aim is also to send out a warning that all the species represented are endangered and that many are on the brink of extinction.
Zoghzoghi’s work highlights the perfect balance of nature. (Supplied)
“Today the uncontrolled development of modern civilizations has called everything into question. Man has become the alpha predator, but unlike other predators he has not kept (nature in) balance and is threatening himself.”
The exhibition includes photographs taken over the past 12 years in Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Norway, the US, Canada, Dubai and Brazil.
The photographer refers to his expeditions as “missions,” adding that the journeys can be “far from easy,” and explaining that he often spends hours concealed in hides while waiting for an animal — sometimes to no avail.
“I traveled to the border of Pakistan and India to immortalize the snow leopard and I failed. I also remember taking a trip to South Africa to see sharks, and — no photos,” he said.
The title of the exhibition was inspired by US author and naturalist Henry Beston’s 1928 book “The Outermost House,” in which he wrote: “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals … They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”
Here, Zoghzoghi discusses some images from the exhibition.
I was in the Masai Mara last November. It was empty, as many visitors had cancelled due to COVID. We left camp by 5:15 a.m. and we had been driving for half an hour when we spotted Kaboso, a beautiful female leopard. She was very relaxed as there were no other vehicles. I asked (the driver) to stop in a little ditch in order to be at eye level with her. By the time he’d stopped, she was almost upon us. I took the shot and she disappeared in the bushes.
This was taken in India’s Bandhavgarh National Park in 2011. We had been looking for a young male tiger that had been sighted in the area the evening before. When we finally found him, he was up on a hill looking at us through the bush. We positioned the car a bit lower on the hill as I wanted to be at eye level and I took the shot focusing on his eyes.
‘Just Around the Corner’
I have a few unforgettable wildlife moments. This encounter with a serval was definitely one of them. It was toward the end of my trip to the Mara in November. As we were making our way back to camp one evening, I decided to stop and stretch my legs after a long day in the vehicle. The temperature was ideal and I felt like staying out a bit more. As I was enjoying the cool breeze, I noticed a serval looking at us as he was walking towards the mud road. He seemed totally relaxed. I quickly grabbed my camera with a 500mm lens and laid flat in the mud hoping to get a low angle photo as he was crossing the mud road. He stopped on the road, looked in my direction and then started walking toward me. He stopped a few times, even groomed for a bit. When he decided he’d done enough checking me out he just left the road and disappeared in the savanna. The light was low, the air was cool, the mood was peaceful.
We left Longyearbyen in Norway on the M/S Origo on March 15, 2019, in the middle of a snow storm and headed north along the western coast of Svalbard. Early one afternoon as we were making our way through a beautiful fjord we spotted a bear sleeping in the snow. We immediately got into the zodiac and headed his way. After a freezing two-hour wait, he finally decided to come our way and started to walk along the ice edge. He disappeared behind an ice mound and as he appeared again on top of the mound, I took the shot.
‘The Magical Realm’
I was in Pantanal, Brazil, in September 2016. We reached Corixo Negro, off the Cuiaba River, before sunrise. The mist was very thick — giving this eerie yet magical atmosphere. As the first colors of the sun were starting to faintly appear I saw a heron sitting peacefully on the side of the river. He suddenly flew and I took the shot. A few seconds later the sun rose and the mist turned suddenly red before disappearing.