Photographer aims to ‘show the life’

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A black bear sow and cub emerge from their 65-foot-high tree den. This sow hibernated in this tree and had two cubs. (Photo by Sumio Harada)

World-renowned for capturing breathtaking photographs of mountain goats in Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies, wildlife photographer Sumio Harada has turned his lens on Glacier’s other denizens in his latest photo book, “Wild Harmony of Glacier National Park.”

After more than two decades spent photographing wildlife in and around the park, Harada views the changing seasons as a window into the natural balance that maintains Glacier’s wild character.

“The ecosystem, the connection, is key to the book,” he says.

His 120-page photo collection charts a course that opens with Harada’s signature mastery of the struggle to survive Glacier’s brutal winters, then documents the park’s varied ecosystems and natural residents as they progress through the seasons.

Harada, 55, was born in Japan but has lived with his family in West Glacier for the past 21 years.

Despite his work’s international recognition — including National Geographic’s selection of a mountain goat photo among its 2003 edition of top wildlife photos — he is largely self-taught.

His interest in the art began at age 16 when he joined his high school photography club. His biology studies at the Tokyo University of Agriculture led him to begin photographing the serow, a small Japanese ungulate distantly related to mountain goats.

While “Wild Harmony” takes a broader focus than his work on mountain goats, they remain his passion as a photographer.

“A goat, a serow, it looks closer to a human,” he explains. “I can guess how they’re thinking.”

Coupled with his scientific background, his immersion in their environment has produced breathtaking imagery.

His first long-term project took him to the Canadian Rockies in the late 1980s. He spent 15 months camped in the unforgiving alpine terrain around Banff, hitchhiking to Jasper every two weeks to buy food and enduring harsh winter months with temperatures in the negative 30s.

“The toughest thing was the long nights,” he remembers. “Fourteen hours is too long.”

But by the time he packed up camp to return to Tokyo, his bounty included hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film and a conviction that he would become a professional wildlife photographer.

“When I brought the 300 rolls of film to Japan, then I saw them — wow.”

Harada met American tourists during his time in Banff, many of whom urged him to check out Glacier. He first visited the park in 1989 on his honeymoon after marrying his wife, Kumi.

“The Canadian Rockies are huge mountains, but the population of goats here, it’s number one,” he says.

As his career has progressed, Harada may have grudgingly make the switch from film to digital cameras, but his penchant for capturing rare moments of animal behavior remains evident in his work.

“If I want to know about the goats, I have to see around the goats — the mountains, their predators, everything.”

It’s that rigorous, biology-grounded approach to his subjects reveals some of the unique behaviors of the park’s more common fauna: a pika gleaning precious nutrients from marmot scat, squirrels targeting still-green pine cones to keep their seeds from dispersing and mountain goats fighting, frolicking and courting.

The book also typifies his relentless pursuit of wildlife through the park’s deepest backcountry, producing vivid scenes of mountain lions, golden eagles, moose and even a rare wolverine.

“I wanted to show them doing something, not just the potential. I want to show them in action, to show the life,” Harada says. “If you can feel the connection, then I am glad.”


Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

A cow moose at Redrock Lake. (Photo by Sumio Harada)

 

A mountain lion eats a bighorn ewe carcass. (Photo by Sumio Harada)

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