Naturalist at Heart, Photographer by Choice


Rick Stanley ’12 is a nature photographer currently exhibiting his work at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

What first drew you to wildlife and nature photography?

When I was a kid, I used to bring a lot of bugs into the house, and my mom bought me a camera so I could take pictures of them instead. You know how kids raise caterpillars in the house and they keep getting loose and stuff? Well, my mom got me a camera for my eighth birthday to reduce the number of critters that got loose in the indoors.

So you’re a naturalist at heart?

Yes, you could say that. I’ve always been interested in art and nature—when I was six, I illustrated a book of fifty species of fish that I consider one of my greatest achievements in life. I wish I could channel my six-year-old self’s motivation. Anyway, nature photography was the natural way to combine these interests.

Which photographers do you admire?

Ansel Adams is great, I identify with him in many ways. Art Wolfe is also very inspiring, as is Frans Lanting.

What do you look for in a photograph?

The ones I’m really proud of are like good paintings—they transport you to the scene, it’s more artistic than literal. They have evocative qualities and there’s a certain simplicity to it.

You currently have a photography exhibit in the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Tell me about the places those photos were taken in.

There are so many places that I drew upon for those photos, but mainly they were taken during volunteer internships with the Friends of the Osa in Costa Rica and various trips with beetle specialists from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I visited all kinds of environments, including tropical dry forest, tropical lowland rainforest, and cloud forest.

You also received the BBC Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award in high school, which is the world’s top nature photography competition. Do you aspire to become a nature photographer?

Whatever I do, I want to incorporate nature photography into my future. It’s very difficult to make a career out of nature photography because of digital photography and the wide availability of images, so I’m not counting on it. One of the people I really admire is David Attenborough—he’s the man, and my ideal career would be to do what he does [making nature documentaries]. However, I lack the accent, which I foresee being a problem.

What do you for fun besides photography?

I also enjoy painting and am currently enrolled in a painting class. I am a big fan of classical music and go to the BSO whenever I have the chance. I also like to seek out wildlife wherever I can find it, and I love taking walks out to Mt. Auburn Cemetery and Fresh Pond.

What are some of the craziest things you’ve seen in the field?

Did you know there are bunnies in the Amazon? Native, not introduced, Amazonian bunnies. That was highly unexpected for me. Also, I had the fantastic luck of seeing a jaguar on my third day in the field in Brazil, which was amazing because some people go thirty years without seeing one. I’ve also seen a leaf mimic moth that is so convincing that, if you touch it, it just flutters to the ground exactly like a leaf—it’s amazing.

What is one creature that you would like to photograph more than anything else?

I would love to photograph three birds called the Marvelous Spatuletail, the Fiery Topaz, and the Great Sapphirewing, all of which are beautiful hummingbirds.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I’d be thirty—that’s frightening. Otherwise, I’d like to be finishing my graduate studies and hopefully working in the field as much as I can. I plan to spend as much of my time in the jungle as I possibly can, and I hope to be staying true to that.

Riva Riley ’12 (rjriley@fas) just hopes that Rick doesn’t bring bugs back to his dorm room.