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Empathizing with wild animals

Takayuki Maekawa has stalked and shot wild animals, but he’s not a hunter. He’s a photographer who has traveled to Asia, India, Africa and North America to capture the human side of his subjects in his images.

The emerging photographer said in a translated interview that he started off as a landscape photographer and became interested in photographing animals after encountering them in the wild.

"When I was thinking of becoming a pro at the age of 29, I did not understand meaning of shooting wildlife completely,” he said. Maekawa would click away without thought and just try to get an image of the animal. He characterized his shooting technique as immature, but he could still get some good pictures, he said.

While following polar bears in northern Canada for three weeks, he realized he could empathize with animals.

“I was so moved when I saw their maternal love was so deep,” he said.

Since then he’s worked to show the animals’ spirits.

Maekawa typically decides on a species and researches it before heading into the wild. He then goes to a place where the animal is likely to be and settles there. He waits, sometimes 10 hours a day for as long as a month, for the animal and the picture. Some animals he has been photographing on and off for 10 years.

Other times, he stakes out a spot where many animals come and go and takes pictures.

On occasion he’s been so focused on shooting that he didn’t notice the edge of a cliff or got lost in a forest where predators roam, but he’s only had one close call with animals in the wild. Two grizzly bears charged toward him in the woods, and they came within 5 meters, about 5 yards, of him before changing direction.

Maekawa recently won the Nikkei National Geographic Photo Prize, which recognizes promising young photographers from Japan. His work will be exhibited at the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York June 13 to June 29. An artist reception open to the public will take place on Thursday, June 13, from 6-8 p.m.

- Lauren Russell, CNN