A somewhat different view from outside:

Excerpt from the dutch magazine FOTO, issue 7/8, 2002

Jan van Gelderen

Nature Photography as an Enterprise

Pearls in the work of Fritz Pölking

Fritz Pölking, age 66, is more than likely the most sought after nature photographer to market himself on the globe. Now don’t take this the wrong way. You need extremely resistant equipment, use up miles and miles of film material in order to get marketable pictures and it is necessary to go on very expensive expeditions.

To just hop over to Outer Mongolia in order to take pictures of snow leopards will cost a lot more than anyone would see in a budget no matter how carefully you plan it. The nature photographer who wants to stay in business will have to have an enormous production and excellent merchandising.

Every important agency in the world has thousands and tenths of thousands of slides with Pölkings work stored. That will bring a dollar per slide per year, so he says. You could call that much …or not. Much, because you do not have to do anything for it anymore …not, because every year the Pölking enterprise commits at least 50.000 slides to the incinerator and as such they bring nothing.

Pölking, in spite of the sparsely furnished office in the sleepy town of Greven, by Münster, is a global player, speaks in dollars, thinks of licensing his books and is an adventurous businessman. That´s because he has held on for so long; that he has gone to see the most remote corners of the world and that he can account for pictures that no one has ever taken before. He wants to go to Australia; he knows the rest of the world. He can´t offer any kangaroos, but he is able to deliver everything else: from snowdrops to snow leopards, from ducks to an all white zebra; always a sharp picture, perfectly exposed and extremely competent.


So within this enormous stream of pictures in books, calendars, scientific publications, school books, advertisements, medical journals, etc. you suddenly come upon pictures of such unbelievable beauty, that your heart stops when seeing them for the first time. The city museum of Schleswig chose his work for their German traveling exhibition with unmistakable accuracy and decision, elevating Fritz Pölking to this status of creative photographer, where and which he actually is. It is possible to converse with him. The weedy, much younger looking Pölking is careful, cautious and reveals little of himself. I try to entice him by asking him questions that provoke, like:" What exactly does nature mean to you?" and impertinent ones like:" Are you religious? Does the contact to animals bring you closer to the Creator?"

The answers are trivial, but the ironic gaze accompanying them is suggestive. Staying with practical things in photography and business, and that seems to be a good approach, will bring statements from him that certainly has to do with the heart. He admits his love for felines, something that is reflected in the picture of the leopard mother, playing with her three months old cub.

"This is the way I would always like to take them", he says, "this picture reflects what is really happening there. The hyperactive cub who does not know when to quit, the mother, who has just about had enough…. you can see it in her expression and the cub reacts to this by laying his ears back, being aggressive with his mouth and lifting a paw with extended claws, ready to strike out. That is wrong and the cup knows and expresses this by turning his body slightly to the side, ready to run away." A picture has to tell the whole story he says. If that does not work out with one slide, then with several slides. If this is so important, why have you never filmed?

"I can only do one thing at a time. I find it even impossible to take black and white pictures next to colored ones."

There is so little blood in your pictures. Not a drop of blood can be seen even in the one with the horrible crocodile that is ripping a gazelle. "Blood does not sell. Magazines picture nature only as pretty, romantic and balanced. Here, what do you think of this picture? A leopard killed a highly pregnant Thompson gazelle. Ripped the fetus out of the body with its claws and devoured it. Think about it: this has been happening for 60 Million years, that is evolution, okay! But if you think – as proclaimed in all religions of the world – that there is a plan behind any of it, you also have to be able to put a question mark after all the perversities and sadism of creation. Magazines would rather let their readers sleep. This picture will never be published."

Why do many of your pictures seem uninspired and why are you so preoccupied with documentation? " Because there is an enormous market for it. Education and science needs illustrations of plants and animals."

New Techniques

After working with Nikon for many years, you switched to Canon. Why?

"For the same reason I switched from Olympus to Nikon. It is all about the technical possibilities available. The EOS has an especially pleasant mirror lock up, perfect for macro takes…. and what is more important to me: Canon´s telephoto lenses with picture stabilizer. With it you can take pictures at 1/125 sec. that you would need thousandth using a normal lens. I can take pictures now that have never been taken before. I will be on my way to New Mexico shortly to take pictures of the famous bat colonies. At dusk you will find huge swarms of tenths of thousands of these bats. That has is something that has rarely been photographed, because it always happens at nightfall. Something that most certainly has not been photographed yet, are the birds of prey, plunging down on these bats to cut them down. With the new Canon I hope I can arrest these scenes on film and with the new Fuji film material, which can be upgraded to unknown ISO calculations without losing a whole lot of sharpness, it is a promising combination. I am hoping to be successful."

You have taken other pictures that no other photographer has ever taken before. I am thinking about the giant tortoise on the Galapagos Islands and the buzzard that landed on its back (this picture in the magazine National Wildlife won first prize in 1982) and in Mongolia you were the second photographer ever taking pictures of snow leopards. The pictures you took of diving and fish-catching kingfisher birds were the first. Is that your greatest incentive in nature photography? To do something that has never been done before?

"No, again, the greatest incentive for me in nature photography is a taking a picture that tells a story. But truth of the matter is, that pictures which have not been taken before bring the highest price. Those pictures of kingfisher birds were taken 25 years ago. Within the last two years they alone brought in Euro 38.000.-. So you see, that’s why you can fly to Mongolia again and I think it is great that I found the snow leopards there. But the story is not yet finished, I have to go back."

What was it that liberated nature photography the most?

"The invention of the litho scanner, which enables you to produce high quality prints from small formatted cameras. Before, you had to take slides the size of at least 6X6 cm and a Hasselblad or a single plate camera were too slow for most motifs in nature photography." Where did you get your know-how?

"The technique I learned through practise. I started taking pictures during my spare time when I was fifteen, while working with my dad in the pastry shop: Later I worked as a photographer for pictures of industry and architecture. You learn the art of exposure, to work with contrasts, to develop and to make prints. That was the time when two nature photographers were known in Germany: Hermann Fischer-Warenholz and Walter Wissenbach. The first one produced many pictures of preyed upon animals and Wissenbach was known for his stroboscopic pictures, photos taken with an ultra-flash. A bit earlier on, in England, Eric Hosking, a bird photographer used this same technique. These were my role models."

Something that should not be left untold is the fact that Pölking led legions of nature photographers with a magazine called NATURFOTO, which he published under his own direction (Kilda-Verlag) 10-12 years ago and responsibility of which he transferred to the Tecklenborg Publishing in Steinsfurt for lack of time. Through this edition, which reflected the best on the subject of nature photography, many were enlightened.

What would be your best advise to give someone who is at the very beginning of their nature photography career?

"To stay close to home and to try and research everything possible about the behaviour of the animals you wish to photograph. A camera has never taken a picture, any one can push a button. Only through intensive research will you find the right moment to press the shutter release."

Let’s say you believe in reincarnation. As what would you like to come back to earth?

"As the wife of a professional soccer player."

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