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Ashland photographer goes On Safari

Photographer Judy Benson LaNier says her art is mostly about "making the insignificant significant by focusing attention on things that are usually ignored." These often-missed photo ops are frequently provided by something too small to get much attention, like a lady bug in the rain, and then other times by something that just isn't seen in day to day life, like a charging elephant.

If you visited Ashland's former gallery 369Up in the past three years, then you've probably noticed her striking nature photography. LaNier's work has also been featured in A Taste of Ashland exhibits, and her "Lady's Bath," a photograph of a lady bug on a leaf during a spring shower, was selected from the top seven percent of 21,000 photos from more than 20 countries for the Photographer&

s Forum contest, The Best of Photography Annual 2002.

Asked what she loves most about her art, she replies, "Just being with the animals and with the flowers when I kind of zone out and enter the space with the animal or flower." She recalls in particular an artist's day last year at Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center when "they let the wolves come out with us and we could just be with them."

Sharing a space with wildlife isn't always the sublime experience it was at Wildlife Images. LaNier, along with several other photographers was recruited for a two-week safari in 2004 to Zambia for David Anderson's book "On Safari: The Source for Safaris in East and Southern Africa" as part of the Focus on Africa project.

Cannon 10D, 300 mm (1.6 magnification factor) in hand, the retired elementary and middle school art teacher found herself looking up at an elephant, sort of the watchdog of the herd, barreling toward their open Land Rover, stopping only 10 feet short of plowing into them: "We were told this was a false charge, but then we were told that a false charge can turn into a real charge, so yes, it was scary. And the noise &

the sound of a several-ton animal charging towards you and then the trumpeting. The roar of a lion will chill you to the bone . It's like that with an elephant's trumpeting."

— — —

This elephant photographed by Judy Benson LaNier — graces the inside of a recent coffee table book.

Submitted photo

They were charged a couple more times like this by other young male elephants. While a guard in the Land Rover carried a gun, the likely response to a more dangerous charge would have been starting up the vehicle's motor she says.

"It's surprising the first time, but after two or three times you know what to expect," she says. After the first incident, she could keep her hands steady enough to shoot some good photos, like the one here of the elephant in motion, about 15 feet away, ears flapping and trumpeting (unlike in a real charge where the ears would be flat and the trunk curled in, she says).

As for the safari in general, "It was fabulous; it was just amazing," says LaNier, whose African connections go back to 1962 when she was a senior at Ashland High School and her family hosted the school's first foreign exchange student, Yvonne Nicolson from South Africa. The families kept in touch , and in 1999, LaNier with her mother, sister and brother visited the family, Kruger National Park and went on safari in Eastern Africa.

Three of her 2004 photos were selected for "On Safari," an exquisite coffee table book/guide released last month: Two gorgeous savanna sunsets with black, silhouetted trees, and the third, a shot of a huge paw print in the Land Rover's tracks, left by a lion that had tracked them.

LaNier didn't study photography until her final term in graduate school. "It was a requirement for art education and I'd left it for last because I was so scared to do it. I thought it would be so hard. I found out during the first week that it is my passion."