SCIENCES

Camera Hunter: George Shiras III and the Birth of Wildlife Photography

Univ. of New Mexico. Oct. 2019. 312p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780826354266. $34.95. BIOG
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George Shiras III (1859–1942) led a remarkable life: the son of a Supreme Court judge, Shiras was a pioneering photographer and a member of a fraternity of early conservationists that included Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell. Born to a wealthy Pittsburgh family, Shiras forged his connection to nature by hunting and fishing in Michigan’s Lake Superior region, where he went in 1870 when he was 11 and returned every summer for 70 years. McCommons (journalism, Northern Michigan Univ.) traces Shiras’s “peculiar mental evolution” from hunter-killer to camera hunter; his witness to Gilded Age resource exploitation and market hunter waste figured largely. Around 1889, Shiras began experimenting with cameras to capture wildlife at night in natural habitats, varying methods of approach to skittish subjects and tinkering with trip wires, flashlight setups, and camera traps. In 1906, National Geographic devoted almost the entire issue to his work. It was beneficial for both photographer and magazine, and the beginning of a long relationship with the organization. His nocturnal pictures—still strikingly eery and intense—are sprinkled throughout the book.
VERDICT Chronicling Shiras’s many achievements (e.g., his Migratory Birds Act advocacy, his discovery of the “Shiras Moose”) and shedding light on his times, McCommons presents a full life with admirable economy.

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