The Auditorium Theater was filled with children, teens, adults and seniors—all to see big cats up close and personal with the photographer who made them famous, Jack Winter of the National Geographic. Winter was dwarfed on stage at the podium by the huge overhead screen that made his vibrant photographs and videos intimate for the audience.
Jack’s stories captivated us as he shared his growth as a photographer, from his childhood in Indiana to his world travels in search of the four of the five big cat groups: jaguars, tigers, cougars and leopards. In each case, his work brought attention to the decreasing habitat and therefore fewer breeding pairs of these animals. Some, such as the Sumatran tiger, are on the rapid path to extension. Others are increasingly secure due to successful conservation programs. Rapacious big cat slaughter, usually for revenge of livestock kills, can be curtailed. Farmers and hunters are becoming energetic conservationists working with the lucrative eco-tourist business, he told us.
The Auditorium Theater Focuses on the Eye of the Artist and the Mind of the Engineer
It is the clarity and settings of Winter’s photos that stun the viewer., in this writer’s view. They look artificial, staged. Most of his still photos are the result of months of tedious monitoring of camera traps. Working with local trackers, Winter and his crew identify the most frequented trails and set up 20 to 30 camera traps focused on one area. The aim is to simultaneously trap the cat with the focal point set on various points within the frame. So, when we look at the cougar walking in Griffith Park above Los Angeles, and the Hollywood sign in the background is as clear as the face of the cougar, that is because multiple cameras are used and the results digitally blended into a perfect exposure, regardless of the focal point. Winter’s photos are the result of technological expertise, extreme patience, and the eye of an artist.
More Captive Tigers in the U.S. than Wild Tigers Worldwide
Winter’s most recent National Geographic published project (December 2019 issue, researched and written by his partner, Sharon Guynup) reveals the thousands of big cats held privately within the U.S. These are not zoo animals, but pets, guard animals and working performers. Some are held illegally, but in most states, if it is legal to purchase a hamster, it is legal to purchase a tiger cub. There are more tigers captive in the U.S. than in the wild in the rest of the world.
Winter’s dedication to big cats has saved hundreds of them from slaughter, and potentially from extinction. He lives the dreams of his childhood to entertain and educate us. It is our influence and involvement in the conservation of big cats worldwide that will save them to inspire future generations.
In this reviewer’s opinion, the ticket prices were high ($35 and up) for an educational program. Perhaps a child’s ticket for 12 and under could be available for a lower price for future NatGeo Live presentations. The Field Museum had an engaging table display of big cat furs and skulls in the lobby. People flocked to this, especially children. Unfortunately, the display was taken down immediately after the end of the presentation, rather than remaining,so people exiting could benefit.
ON THE TRAIL OF BIG CATS was a one-time event.
But the Auditorium Theater is presenting more 2019-2020 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LIVE.
Reviewer Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation. Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help seniors with neurological movement disorders. Please visit her website for more information.
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