Meet the Wildlife Photographer: Julie Larsen-Maher, Staff Photographer at the Wildlife Conservation Society

Julie with the walrus at the New York Aquarium. Copyright Megan Maher.

Describe your job: I am the sixth person to be appointed staff photographer for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) since its founding in 1895, and the first woman. In 1991, I began my career at WCS, headquartered at the Bronx Zoo, as creative director of publications.

I use digital photography to bring to life WCS programs at five New York-based wildlife parks, where I have exclusive behind-the-scenes access to 20,000 animal residents and their caregivers. I also photograph some of the world’s leading conservationists, animal experts, and their projects at biodiverse WCS field locations in 60 countries. I have joined conservation expeditions in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uganda, Zambia, Yellowstone National Park, the Adirondacks, and Caribbean islands. I was also a member of the National Geographic Science and Exploration Expedition through the Makira Rainforest in Madagascar, an uncharted region that is now generating carbon offset revenue.

Julie Larsen-Maher on assignment in Zambia. Copyright Megan Maher.

My photos are regularly picked up by the Associated Press, Reuters, and other wire services; and seen in National Geographic publications, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Africa Geographic, all New York daily newspapers including the New York Times, as well as innumerable national and international publications like AZA’s magazine, CONNECT.  My photojournalism stories have appeared on major websites, including Nikon, Lexar, and Mongabay. I was recently profiled on National Geographic Newswatch.

How long have you been in the position? I have been with the Wildlife Conservation Society for over 20 years, and in the staff photographer’s position since 2004.

What in your background helped you get the job?  I grew up on a farm in Iowa and learned very early about working with animals my family raised. I explored creeks and woods and studied the flora and fauna I found along the way. I participated in various programs and volunteer opportunities that included animal care and art. High school and college classes included English, art, writing, journalism, biology, and other sciences. My job is the perfect blend of art and science, and I draw from my experience and education all the time.

While working at WCS, I had the opportunity to work closely with two of the past staff photographers as their art director and back up photographer. I learned much about the industry from them. I also knew a good deal about our conservation programs from my art director days when I dealt directly with WCS conservationists as they wrote articles and sent in photographs from remote locations. It was clear that photodocumenting our field work was a priority. I knew the field stories and photographs from these areas would become the visual voice for our conservation efforts.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?  No two days are the same. I could be photographing new arrivals at the Bronx Zoo like our giraffe calf and zebra foal one day, an education class on the next day, and a fundraising gala with over 800 people in attendance that night.

I hope that I can bring awareness to conservation issues surrounding wildlife and wild lands and inspire change for their protection through my photographs.

Describe a favorite memory/experience in your current position:  In Madagascar, I remember setting up an early morning shoot to capture the biodiversity of the island. I was figuring on a long hike to locate some of the species in the a.m., and instead, it found me. A brilliantly-colored chameleon was sitting on my shoe when I woke up.

Do you have a favorite animal? Why is it your favorite?  I get this question a lot, and honestly, I don’t have a favorite animal – on purpose. I have a great respect for all animals and haven’t found one yet that isn’t interesting and beautiful. I like the idea of studying each subject, finding something unique about it, and then taking up the challenge of getting pictures of it– from the smallest to the greatest.

Tim Lewthwaite

This entry was posted in Aquarium, People, Profiles, Wildlife, Zoo. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Meet the Wildlife Photographer: Julie Larsen-Maher, Staff Photographer at the Wildlife Conservation Society

  1. Hi Julie. I shoot Canon Digital. Have most every thing I need to work from 1/2″ to quarter mile, 3 – 5 X Macro to long telephoto. I already do some freelance things. I have worked with endangered species: fresh water darters, Rana Capito Servosa, some habitats, a favorite is southern plains and Longleaf and related diversitys. Oh yea, rivers, wetlands, don’t matter what kind or where as long as there is a way out. Ways in are easy.
    What can I do to help and what can I do to get my foot in the door?
    I live in Pelahatchie MS, work in Jackson. I range from Southern Illinois to islands in the Gulf and Louisiana to the Atlantic.
    I can work with most any species as long as that species knows I am working with it, not against them. That seems to be the attitude most accepted by pratically all of nature including edges of bluffs to Canebrake Rattlers. Cute is important but relevancy of species – to life – to natural systems is most important. Maybe just maybe why some animals let me even when I get close is becuase they know by my body chemistry or vibes I am not a menace but this is just a guess on my part. I don’t read wildlife or species minds yet.
    Again let me know if you have any suggestions.

  2. The Narwhal says:

    Excellent article and i love your photos , looks like you’re having a lot of fun :)

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