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Book Review: Tall Tales, Long Lenses

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Clare Disano delves in to John E. Marriott’s latest book, Tall Tales, Long Lenses: My Adventures in Photography.

When a famed wildlife photographer, such as John E. Marriott, has a new book out, I always get a little excited. So, to have the opportunity to review his latest titled ‘Tall Tales, Long Lenses’ was an absolute pleasure.

This book is different from his previous titles, which are focused more on specific species, or areas in Canada where he has been photographing wildlife for some twenty years. ‘Tall Tales, Long Lenses’ is a chronicle of John’s entire career, beautifully presented and accompanied by a whole host of captivating images, in particular the bears he has grown up around and come to know.

Instantly, what I find encouraging is that Marriott makes a point early on, telling us that all of the photographs included in the book were obtained naturally in the wild, ‘without the use of baits, lures, calls or attempts to modify my subjects’ behaviours.’ which echoes again at the end of the book, showing just how passionate he is about the conservation of the bears he has come to care so deeply for.
His passion really comes through, down to his chosen quote by Charlie Russell: ‘I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by incredible beauty, enjoying wonderful relationships with wild animals most of us were taught to fear. We really need to get over our fear of the wild. It’s what sustains us; not what threatens us.’ This passion is carried all the way through the chapters.


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Marriott treats us to an emotive and witty journey, starting with his childhood, which sets the foundations for his chosen career path. The captivating stories set the scene with such detail, one can clearly picture exactly how these scenes must have looked.

With his detailed early encounters, we start to get a flavour of a conservationist in-the-making, through a series of life events that all accumulate to produce a professional wildlife photographer; study, jobs, finance, family, support and, finally, experience, all play a vital role.

Frank the Tank, a large dominant male grizzly bear, in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, BC, Canada

The principal element of this series of tales, for me, is John’s ability to write about each experience with such clarity, charm and, in particular, with such humour. All of this makes the book a delight to read, and one that we can delve into and let our imaginations take ahold. There are some hilarious laugh-out-loud moments that really entertain, particularly the ‘big-fish story’, along with many others. But don’t be fooled. There is drama and sadness too. Both beautiful and heart-wrenching stories fill the pages.

As we start to see his photography career blossom with a prestigious photography award, we also get to see how his conservation efforts unfold. Through spending so much time observing bears, Marriott is able to see and understand what is necessary for their survival and was able to get a no-stopping zone set up to protect Watson (a Kermode Bear), and others, from tourists and their cars. His experience knows that road traffic accidents with bears are rife.

Aside from that, there are plenty of other problems bears face; being killed by more dominant bears, shot by landowners or conservation officers, hunted or poached. Some even starve, unable to make it through hibernation because they’ve been pushed into marginal habitat by other bears. So, through his stories, we start to understand why this area of his life is so important and gains such momentum.

Hunting is a convoluted issue that is touched upon - ‘While the B.C. provincial government announced a ban on trophy hunting to begin on November 30th, 2017, they have left open a large loophole that will allow grizzly hunting to continue under the guise of hunting for grizzly bear meat, despite the fact grizzly hunters almost never eat the meat.’

But this is a man who is making great strides to contribute with his own conservation efforts, like the ‘EXPOSED’ web series he has started on YouTube, with his friend and client, Kim Odland.

He goes on to explain that grizzly bears are targeted and killed for their hides and heads by trophy hunters each spring and fall; a stark reminder that without conservation, like a lot of species, they could quite easily disappear forever. For this man, this is clearly a species worth fighting for, as he has spent his entire adult life watching them and getting to know them, so it would probably be fair to say that he knows what he is talking about when it comes to bears…and photography of course.

Giant male grizzly bear in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in the Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada

And let’s not forget about his photography. It is clear to see the gradual developments of his images as the book, and his career, progress. The images help to tell a lot of the stories, but some also go further; some are so captivating that I couldn’t help but stare at them, taking in their depiction and beauty. The animals come to life, like they could almost jump out of the page. I am particularly drawn to the images of Casper, the friendly bear. Those are my favourites, as there is something quite breathtaking about them. Maybe it’s the tale that goes with them, or perhaps John just has a unique way of capturing every beguiling aspect of these misunderstood creatures. The vista shots with bears are also alluring and, for me, they invoke a sense of place, helping me to imagine myself in that very location.

You don’t have to be a photographer to enjoy this book. If you have an affinity with any wildlife there is also something to be gained from reading these tales. The journey John takes us on tells a series of fascinating stories about a whole host of animals but the bears steal the show. We get to know them by name, along with their personalities and adventures, and the stories are a wonderful accompaniment to the images. Tall Tales, Long Lenses’ is a great read to absorb yourself in and depict each scene in your own mind’s eye.

John E. Marriott is a professional wildlife photographer based in Canmore, Alberta, Canada in the Canadian Rockies. His latest book, Tall Tales, Long Lenses: My Adventures in Photography is available online in the UK at YPD Books www.ypdbooks.com and elsewhere on Amazon.

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