Indiana man travels world pursuing wildlife photography
An AP Member Exchange shared by the (Logansport) Pharos-Tribune
LOGANSPORT, Ind. (AP) — All in an attempt to capture the perfect photograph, Dale Sullivan has walked along the edge of dormant volcanoes in Hawaii. He’s been face to face with polar bears in Alaska. He’s even seen the northern lights on a trek through Iceland. He may be the most interesting man in Logansport.
And at 76 years old, Sullivan has no plans to slow down.
“I live on the edge,” he said, smiling.
For more than 40 years, Sullivan taught art and photography classes at Logansport High School. When he wasn’t teaching, Sullivan said he also did some bridal photography on the side.
But it was after his retirement in 2002 that Sullivan said he put that bridal work aside and began to pursue one of his other passions — wildlife photography.
“I found out I could do what I wanted in photography, which included traveling,” he said. His wife Jayne travels with him. “We’ve been all over the world taking pictures.”
Saying that he always imagined himself as a National Geographic photographer, Sullivan has been to South America, Australia, Iceland, Hawaii, Alaska and nearly every national park in America. He was even scheduled to visit Africa before a sudden eye surgery forced him to postpone the trip.
And while every place is special in its own unique way, Sullivan said Alaska is still near the top of his list.
He’s been up there six times now, in fact, mostly during the summer salmon runs when the grizzly bears are too busy to notice Sullivan’s Nikon camera pointing in their direction.
His last Alaskan trip was in 2016, where he stayed for several days at a small Inupiat Eskimo village named Kaktovik. Because the village is so isolated, Sullivan said a bush pilot had to fly him in to the area.
“I was up up in the North Slope (along the Arctic Ocean in northern Alaska), and there were just a couple hundred people in that village,” Sullivan said. “One morning, I’m sitting and drinking coffee with one of the natives, and I told him that I wanted to go on the ice and get really good pictures of polar bears. The next thing you know, I was on the ice.”
For Sullivan, capturing the best photograph is all about the chase, he said, and he often thinks about his audience when he’s taking a picture.
“It’s capturing that image and then being able to share that image with somebody,” he said. “Most people, especially in Logansport, have never experienced an Arctic polar bear. So I can take a picture and share that with them.”
But the quest for a good photograph also comes with a few risks, Sullivan said, like the time a grizzly bear came charging toward his boat. There was also the time when he got a little too close to a polar bear family.
“I was out on the ice taking pictures of this polar bear,” Sullivan said, “and she had two cubs following behind her. The two cubs came around the side toward me, and that really got the mother’s attention. I had a native guide with me, and he pulled me by the parka to back me up.”
Incidents like those are why Sullivan said he’s always cautious when he’s in any animal’s environment. After all, he said, the animals he photographs aren’t in a zoo.
“You have to recognize these animals are in their elements, and I don’t want to encroach on them,” he said. “You just have to be respectful of their space. I have to watch eye contact. If these bears raise their hackles or their ears, I’m backing up in a hurry. They’re wild animals, and I don’t want to interfere with their lives.”
And if there is one lesson that capturing animals in their natural habitat has taught Sullivan through the years, it’s about the importance of life in general, he said.
“Life is very fragile,” Sullivan said, “whether it’s wildlife or just us in general. All of us live on the edge, and there’s a very fine line between success and failure. And I’ve been very fortunate to have health and to be able to go out and do these things.”
Which is why Sullivan is already preparing for his next trip, a possible visit to Yosemite National Park, one of the few places around the country he hasn’t been to yet. After that, Sullivan said he’ll just see what lies in store.
“What’s on the horizon, I don’t know yet, and that’s part of the adventure,” he said. “That’s just part of this adventure.”