Photography is sometimes referred to as a "hobby of a lifetime," and in the case of Donna Bourdon, that bit of popular wisdom has certainly borne out. The Chattanooga-based photographer’s love of capturing images began when she was 9 years old.
"My parents gave me my first 'Brownie' camera, and I never looked back," Bourdon says, adding that she upgraded to her father’s hand-me-down Minolta SR-7 as a teenager.
Inspired by watching episodes of "Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom," her love of photography and wildlife naturally intertwined. Soon, she invested in better equipment and sought opportunities to capture spectacular animal imagery in some of the wildest places on Earth — a quest aided, in part by her participation in trips organized and led by the Tennessee Aquarium.
“Those made the dreams of Africa come to life,” Bourdon says. “I took my first Aquarium-sponsored trip there in 1998. Since then, I’ve been on eight African photo-safaris, five of those with the Tennessee Aquarium.”
Bourdon has warmed hearts with photos of snow monkeys, coastal brown bears, puffins and red-crowned cranes. Her shots also have garnered international acclaim. One, an image of a crocodile taking a young Cape Buffalo, was used in an African segment of the Nat Geo Wild program "Caught in the Act."
One of her images, "Rhapsody in Pink," was selected as a finalist to be included in "BigPicture," an annual photography exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
Since launching in 2014, "BigPicture" highlights the works of the world’s best nature and conservation photographers. This annual competition focuses a lens on the wonders of the natural world and critical environmental issues facing our planet. More than 6,000 entries poured in from around the world for the 2018 BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition, which includes a shot Bourdon captured while in St. Augustine, Fla.
“This beautiful roseate spoonbill is flying into the nest with its wings in what is referred to as the ‘orchestra position,’” Bourdon says. “I love capturing beautiful images of nature that inspire others to fall in love with the natural world. Hopefully, my works inspire others to promote conservation and protection of these precious animals and vital resources.”
Beginning October 1, the "BigPicture" exhibition will be on display at the Tennessee Aquarium, sponsored locally by Erlanger Health Systems and "GET OUT" Chattanooga. This will be the only location outside of San Francisco to host this phenomenal photo collection.
“This collection of amazing images is a perfect fit with the Aquarium’s mission to connect people with nature and empower them to make informed decisions about water and wildlife,” says Cindy Todd, the aquarium’s vice president and chief marketing and communications officer. “This exhibit will inspire more people to get outdoors, observe nature more closely, and appreciate all of the amazing ways that wildlife can thrive.”
In the introduction to “Wonders,” a companion book about "BigPicture," famed oceanographer, explorer and conservationist Dr. Sylvia Earle describes how technology enables more individuals to focus on conservation issues.
“The photographs in this extraordinary collection do more than capture moments in time…they tell stories, arouse sympathy, provoke joy, and make you gasp with wonder. Images such as these are precisely what is needed to inspire new generations of people to know and care about wild places and wildlife, and to take action while there is still time.”
As a complement to the international exhibition, local photographers can submit their best nature, wildlife and conservation shots to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “What On Earth Have You Photographed?” contest through Sept. 21 at www.timesfreepress.com/bigpicture/#/gallery. The top three images will also be displayed at the Aquarium beginning October 1.
The BigPicture Natural World of Photography exhibit is free with aquarium admission.