For more than 20 years, the team of Wendy Shattil and Bob Rozinski have endured in a competitive wildlife photography market while promoting environmental awareness.
For 50 years, Colorado's Rocky Mountain Arsenal was the U.S. Army's nerve center for deadly gas. From the months after Pearl Harbor to the closing days of the Cold War, the 17,000 acres of prairie grass outside Denver were home to a stockpile of artillery shells crammed full of mustard gas, white phosphor munitions and incendiary cluster bombs. Native waterfowl drank from open retention ponds filled with a grim cocktail of agricultural pesticides.
If you had stood on this acrid acreage in the late 1950s, you might never have dreamed that the barren deathscape before you would one day be restored to become the Rocky Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, a vibrant urban wilderness that both animals and people can love. And you would never have guessed that such a dramatic environmental transformation could have been helped along by the mere clunk of a Canon F1 shutter in the hands of wildlife photographers Bob Rozinski and Wendy Shattil.
Today, many thousands of shutter clicks later, the sounds of faxes, phone lines, computers and cell phones are a constant presence in the Denver home office of Shattil/Rozinski Photography. The angry chirp of 21st-century technology is far from the serene habitat that Wendy and Bob dreamed of when they met 21 years ago.
The click of a customer's mouse on their web site still doesn't excite them as much as the snap of a twig when a mule deer steps through the forest, but they've come to realize that one feeds off the other. "A great nature photograph is a momentary return to paradise," Rozinski says. "When you see a bird fly by, then all your e-mail problems flying by are not quite as bad."
With 10 books, various art shows and, in the past year alone, dozens of publications around the world to their credit — from Time to France's Terre Sauvage magazine — the couple is flying high over a wildlife photography industry littered with corpses. A refocus on marketing basics, says Shattil, has allowed them to dodge the stock-house consolidations and the Internet downturn that seemed to doom their industry only a few months ago.
Merging a gritty realism drawn from Rozinski's photojournalism career with Shattil's art-house marketing savvy, the two seem to have developed a near-perfect pairing of skills and talent to serve their customers and their higher callings.
Bob: A photo realist
Though his family could hardly afford an expensive hobby like photography, Bob Rozinski was a photo dabbler even as a child. Growing up in the Denver area, he often experimented with an old Brownie camera whenever he could, teaching himself the basics of photography.
Just before the Vietnam War, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed stateside in Kansas. He pulled more than 18 months of active duty as a photographer in a military organization called "Aggressor Center," whose mission was to simulate enemy attacks. "It's one of the reasons I like wandering around in the dark photographing animals now," he jokes.
After his discharge, Rozinski fell into nature photography accidentally while pursuing one of his first loves: skiing. A few photos he published in a local Colorado ski magazine caught the attention of the Denver AP bureau. The Associated Press offered him a slot as a stringer covering what were the equivalent of the World Cup ski races at the time. He spent the early 1970s shooting football, hockey, disasters and floods, and covered the Ted Bundy story before the serial killer escaped from the Aspen jail.
"I wasn't there that day," Rozinski deadpans, then segués into another war story that took place after Nixon escaped from the White House.
That was the time President Gerald Ford fell into nature photography history while skiing in front of Rozinski at Vail. Rozinski happened to be on duty for UPI the day Ford took a tumble on the slopes — an image that became the running joke of his short presidency. Rozinski, a stringer on skis, got off the shot that was wired round the world.
"I attribute a lot of my nature skills to wire-service photography," Rozinski says. "It is probably among the most difficult endeavors in photography. The problem is that you sometimes have as little as 10 minutes at a football or basketball game, and you have to produce. You have Brand X — UPI or AP — right in the vicinity. The pressure was so high, and the criticism was incredibly harsh if you didn't get the very best shot out of the whole bunch. I think it established a way of working, where I tried to always work a lot harder."
In the late 1970s, Rozinski started teaching photography at the University of Colorado Extension along with Len Rue Jr., son of legendary nature and wildlife photographer Dr. Leonard Rue. It was there that Rozinski met his future partner, who started out as one of his students.
"I was doing a class and this woman named Wendy signed up," he recalls. "She was so excited about the class she showed up a week early." Little did he know that she had been working for years in the arts, developing skills that would soon push his own images to higher exposure.
Wendy: An artist in residence
Though born in Chicago, Wendy Shattil was always a child of the Rockies. Her parents had lived in Colorado before she was born, and her family often visited Denver in her youth. "I still can see Glenwood Canyon when I was four years old, and remember knowing I had to live near it," she says. "Colorado has always been it for me."
Like Bob, Wendy stumbled into photography. She started college at the University of Arizona in Tucson, then enrolled in a scientific illustration class in 1970 because her roommate was taking it too. It was a two-semester course, the first being technical drawing and the second, photography."I wasn't sure I was going to take that [photography semester]," she remembers. "But it turns out that the professor of that course was the one who inspired me to do what I'm doing now."
Following college, Shattil worked for Circle Fine Arts (now defunct), a company that marketed contemporary art and limited original art prints. Her employer was the first publisher to produce limited Norman Rockwell and early LeRoy Neiman and Peter Max prints. For a time, she ran the company's Western operations out of its offices in Los Angeles.
While she grew more successful in California's art world, Shattil never gave up her interest in working behind the lens. On one assignment, she traveled to Israel to document an archaeological dig sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution.
Yet through it all, a nagging voice in her head kept calling her back to Colorado. When a chance to move back to Denver as vice president of an art marketing firm arose in 1980, she pounced. The company went bust a year later, but she never regretted the move. It was the ride to the Rockies she had been hunting for her whole life.
Out of work in Denver, she signed up for a photo class and met Rozinski, who quickly introduced her to a local wildlife sculptor, Veryl Goodnight, who needed artist representation.
"After doing all that work for many artists, working for one artist was easy," she says. Almost immediately, recalls Rozinski, both Veryl and Wendy went to Montana to photograph wild horses. Apparently, that cemented the deal.
"I worked for her for six years," Shattil says, "and that gave me lots of time to do photography on the side. We produced our first two books while I was working full-time."
Quitting their day jobs
In 1988, Shattil's employer, sculptor Goodnight, said goodbye to Denver, moving to the booming art mecca of Santa Fe. It was a catalyst that drove Shattil to at last go full-time into photography. Rozinski, who was working in stockyard management, decided that the time was right for him to jump, too.
That first year free of their day jobs proved remarkably productive, says Shattil. The two had an assignment in Egypt for a couple of weeks. Rozinski led a trip for the Denver Museum of Natural History to Africa that fall. They started working with people at the Department of Justice and U.S. Fish & Wildlife to restore the Rocky Mountain Arsenal that same year, a relationship that lasted for seven years more.
Keeping their various lines of business going has always been a real juggling act, Shattil says, but it has become more of a problem in recent years. "Somehow we have been lucky enough to find things to keep us afloat every year, but I wouldn't say we are any more financially stable than we were 14 years ago," she says. "That is just the nature of the business."
For many years, Shattil and Rozinski taught photo classes in Denver, even before they met, but they have since backed away from that revenue stream in favor of finding new channels to sell more prints, online and at art shows. For the last decade or so, they have limited themselves to teaching about two classes per year.
Print sales used to be third or fourth in order of their income, but they have recently jumped to second place, mostly due to a concerted effort by Shattil. "With the demise of stock agencies and the advent of royalty-free images, the business has changed dramatically," she says. "It has motivated us to expand beyond the traditional areas."
"The big clip-art agencies are weaning people into accepting less quality by offering lower prices," Rozinski laments. "As a result, discerning clients just aren't getting the same kind of attention they used to. This type of marketing is a sad kind of trend, where they gobble everyone up and stop providing service."
For the last couple of years, as the smaller agencies have continued to head toward extinction, Shattil has been concentrating more on marketing the Shattil/Rozinski name. "I have been expanding the type of images we are selling and the channels we are selling — online, on our web site and through AG Editions," she says. "I try to stay on top of trends and keep up with the latest electronics. We are producing prints [and] catalogs, and offering more diversified subject matter. We have been highly successful doing higher-end art shows."
At the Evergreen Art Festival, held annually in a park in the foothills near Denver, they sell 150 to 250 prints in a single weekend. "We set up a tent, walls of prints, print bins, tell people our stories, get their input," she says. "It is a lot of fun; we do very well with it."
Survival of the fittest
As difficult as this business is financially, says Rozinski, "we have been told in NANPA [North American Nature Photographers Association] conventions that we are one of the most endangered species. Neither one of us came into this with any nest egg. We support ourselves totally with photography. It makes us work a lot harder. If we don't produce, we don't eat; we don't pay the mortgage."
That reality drives them to shoot, publish and resell a wide range of photos on their website, 2bears.net. The site offers images that run the gamut from gallery-size prints of moody elk in the mist to children's books full of lion kittens and raccoon babies hanging from sticks.
"There is not much of a philosophy [about] images on the web site," says Shattil, who serves as the couple's webmistress. "Those are simply the images we have for sale, those are the ones we stock, those are the ones people like. It is not a vanity site. We do not like to photograph captive animals.Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury to be purists on that.
"We have [photos of] wild wolves from Alaska we would like to sell," she adds. "But we can't because they are not well-groomed and pretty. When people want pictures of wolves, those aren't the ones they want. The ones they want are the ones they are used to seeing, that are raised in game farms."
Although the couple is earning a comfortable living, Shattil says she and Rozinski can be compared to the animals they photograph. "Those wolves may not like pulling down a baby moose, but they do it because they have to eat," she says. "I don't like the fact that people, including us, are exploiting animals just to make a buck. [But] we have no choice. We have to sell in order to take pictures."
Keeping a certain distance
Wendy and Bob were quick to recognize their professional compatibility, but a personal commitment took longer to evolve. In fact, even now the two aren't married, though they have been occupying the same nocturnal habitats for two decades.
An enduring sign of this partnership can be seen on each photo they produce. All of the couple's photos are cosigned, not just out of professional respect for one another, but because they truly collaborate on much more than pushing the shutter button.
While Rozinski prefers macro and landscape work, Shattil prefers environmental shots and does much of the baby-animal stock photos that are their bread and butter. But in almost all cases, they make the same gear choices, which have evolved out of their desire to ensure that the hand of man is never seen in their photos. That means they use lenses of 600mm focal length and up.
"With a lot of animals — birds or whatever — if you are shooting with a 200[mm lens], the animal is going to be reacting as much to you as to its natural environment," Shattil says.
"That is where we developed the preference for the long lenses," she explains. "We live on that 800mm. What it allows us to do is let the animal do its normal behavior, rather than make it do something. Sometimes we are 50 to 150 feet [away], but that is a lot different than 25 to 50 feet."
Another advantage the couple has over other wildlife photographers is the knowledge they have gained by having been around animals so much."We can sort of predict behavior and anticipate it," Shattil says. "We were doing bear up in Alaska and realized what kind of sedges they were eating. Rather than following bears, we were following the sedges; it happens to have a big sugar content."
By knowing where the bears would be feeding, they could position themselves for the ideal lighting conditions and make sure they kept enough distance between the animals and themselves.
"We want the animal coming close to us rather than us coming close to animals," Shattil says. "I think we are as good as most anyone in the field, with the exception of Leonard Rue, in getting close to the animals."
Many judges agree. In 1990, Shattil's intimate portrait of a red fox hiding in the grass of a Denver suburb won her the Grand Prize at the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards, making her the first woman ever to receive such an honor.
The fact that few people realize the work that went into the weeks of observation of the fox's behavior with a heavy 800mm lens is a certain measure of success, Shattil says. "Anytime someone talks about [the fox photo], they talk about the subject, not the process, the lens or film we used," she says. "They are telling me about how they feel about the picture and not how we took it."
Wild, wild life
Carolyn Greene, regional organizer for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), met Wendy and Bob eight years ago. At the time, Greene was publications director at the Colorado Wildlife Federation, an affiliate of NWF. In addition to its wildlife advocacy, the Colorado federation was heavily involved in the project to restore the habitats at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA). Rozinski and Shattil donated the use of numerous photos of the RMA to the wildlife federation, including a series showing mule deer against the backdrop of the Denver skyline.
We try to supplement what the other is shooting as much as we can. I don't think either of us is comfortable shooting with anyone else.
"We have been asked by The New York Times whether we were propagandists for nature," Rozinski says. "And we said, ‘Hell, yes!'"
Greene says she encountered Rozinski and Shattil first through an article they wrote about ethical wildlife photography. Greene says she was moved by their photos and only later discovered the reason for this resonance: The two were conservationists long before they were photographers.
"What that means is they get the photograph, but they are not going to stress the animals to do it," Greene says. "Sometimes it takes them a longer time to get these photos. I have always felt confident that their photos capture the beauty without going right in the animal's face. They often capture wildlife environments, not just the close-up tight shot."
Shattil and Rozinski also have an uncanny ability, Greene says, to bring out the character of an animal in their photos. "They have a great photograph of a kestrel that just captures kestrel personality. It wasn't just a pretty bird sitting on a branch. It had an expression. I knew immediately it was a Shattil/Rozinski photograph.
"They may not be trained scientists, but they have an understanding of animal behavior," Greene adds. "They know what the animal is going to do before it does it."
In 1998, Wendy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though her treatment has rendered her cancer-free, her encounter with mortality has changed the couple's perspective on both of their careers.
"Since that time, my priorities have shifted," says Shattil, "and I presume they will continue to. Since I have a finite amount of time, and so many things I have to be doing, when I shoot I tend now to photograph subjects and locations where I can actually do something that isn't going to be like everyone else in the world. I am also lucky that Bob agrees with me."
Rozinski and Shattil both feel a responsibility to use their skills efficiently to create images that make a difference, shooting for environmental organizations such as NWF and the Nature Conservancy. "We are shooting endangered species, endangered habitats," Shattil says. "It feels right to be doing that."
But there is only so much two people can do. In recent months, the couple has cut back on the number of workshops they lead, now down to just two a year. "Classes take away from shooting," Shattil says. "Invariably, the date approaches and there is something else we would rather be doing."
Currently, Rozinski is interested in documenting wildlife in the ever-shrinking wild prairies of his native Colorado and in the adjacent states of the Great Plains. "It's a real challenge," he says. "It's a lot harder to find the wildlife in such an environment, where everything is low to the ground and there's no mountain in the background to frame it. Besides, there's just not much prairie land left anymore."
Still, there is always more work to be done behind the scenes, Shattil says. Adding "a few more balls to the juggling act," she says she is becoming somewhat of an expert with the computer, creating PowerPoint presentations, archiving their images and creating a second web site that will be more stock-based. "If we could land on a way of doing business that would simplify the office and marketing aspects for me, I would be thrilled. It would mean more time for photography," she says.
"But in 22 years, I haven't had a year that was a sure thing, where I have known what the next month would bring," Shattil says. "If I could know that, that would be extraordinary. I hope that we have that chance someday. Then watch what we could create."
When two people have been working together for as long as Wendy Shattil and Bob Rozinski, it is wise to learn what the other is doing.
In many instances the couple will shoot the same subject at the same time, but they each know to get slightly different compositions and angles to give them the greatest variety of shots. While Bob prepares to photograph a particular animal, Wendy will often help him set up the shot and give him advice, and vice versa.
Sometimes the result can be two completely dissimilar images that tell distinct stories about the same subject. In these two examples, the subject is a wandering grizzly bear and her cub strolling across an Alaskan beach in Katmai National Park, looking for a razor-clam snack at low tide. While Rozinski (at right) chose to pull back and show not only the ursine promenade but also the majestic mountains in the background, Shattil (at left) chose neither. Instead, she used a small Pentax with a wide lens to focus on the huge paw prints left on the sand to illustrate the immense size and power of the animals.
“We try to supplement what the other is shooting as much as we can,” Shattil says. “We generally try to set up our shoots together, and there’s a lot of give-and-take. I don’t think either of us is comfortable shooting with anyone else.”
IN THE LOUPE: Bob Rozinski & Wendy Shattil
Cameras: Both Wendy and Bob shoot with Canon gear, a decision that stemmed from Rozinski's use of Canon when stringing for UPI in the mid-1970s. They have two EO3s, two EOS1s, an A2E, an older Canon T90 and a Canon 500mm lens. Although they already have a 500, Shattil admits, "I lust after the new Canon 500mm/f4." They also have a Hasselblad ELM and a Pentax 6x7, which they use on occasion.
Lenses: For macro work, which Rozinski alone favors, he uses a Canon 1:5 Macro, a 180 Macro and a 90 tilt-and-shift. For field work, they both favor 600mm and longer lenses, because the long lenses allow them to be further removed from the animals. "The length of my arms has increased a lot," Rozinski jokes.
Other Gear: "We have picked up a lot of small tripods; a variety of Gitzo ball heads," says Rozinski, who generally prefers Bogen. "We haven't gone to graphite at this point, because we are still strong enough to carry the other ones. I like the flexibility of the tripods we have, and we will sacrifice weight sometimes for something more flexible in the field." For transportation, they use an old Toyota Land Cruiser and a new Toyota pickup. "We are very adept at photographing from the vehicles," he says. "We have a scrap aluminum place near us, and we have conjured up some door and floor mounts that are so strong, you can tip the car over with one of them."
Advice to aspiring nature photographers: "If you enjoy it, don't do it for a living," Shattil warns. "Do it in a manner so that you can do what you want, when you want. Learn as much as you can about the animals. Spend as much time as you can with the animals. Look at others' pictures. You can't copy what someone else created, but something can stick in your mind. And perhaps if you are lucky, you can get that on film."