The physical body of Mondrook resident Bronwyn Ellis houses a wild and artistic soul.
She belongs outdoors, and by day she has a job that seems designed for her – traipsing softly, albeit in work boots, in the forests of the Mid North Coast as an ecologist for the Forestry Corporation.
“I’ve always loved nature, and I was able to find a position that allowed me to be part of nature and to do surveys and enjoy a lot of species that others don’t get to see,” Bronwyn says.
The days she is not working, she’s travelling the far reaches of the globe in the quest for the perfect photograph of extreme cold climate animal inhabitants. And if she’s not travelling, she’s busy dreaming about her next adventure and making plans.
Bronwyn is making a name for herself in the amateur photography world, recently winning third place in the wildlife category of the Australian Photography magazine’s 2017 Australian Photographer of the Year competition, for a series of photographs of Alaskan brown bears.
For a wild mother bear to lay down in front of you and feel comfortable enough with your presence to nurse her spring cubs is so beyond words.- Bronwyn Ellis
This is the third year in a row Bronwyn has entered the competition. She has placed in the top 10 each of those three years, with her placings growing higher each time. The first year she submitted a portfolio of bear photos, and came ninth. The second year she submitted photos of Arctic foxes.
“This year I only entered one portfolio and I got third, and last year I had two entries and I got two in the top 10. I got sixth and ninth, I think, and another one in the top 20,” Bronwyn says.
Last year was the fifth year of the competition, which is open to amateur photographers in Australia and New Zealand. The 2017 competition attracted 2100 entries, a record number, according to Australian Photography.
Another local photographer, Judith Conning of Diamond Beach, won the same category in the competition’s inaugural year for her photographs of polar bears.
While Bronwyn hasn’t taken any polar bear photos she is happy with, she is very happy with her Alaskan brown bear photos.
Being in the presence of brown bears is so very humbling. They are so big and those claws are so very long. I always am awestruck when I’m in their presence.- Bronwyn Ellis
“Being in the presence of brown bears is so very humbling. They are so big and those claws are so very long. I always am awestruck when I’m in their presence,” Bronwyn says.
“For a wild mother bear to lay down in front of you and feel comfortable enough with your presence to nurse her spring cubs is so beyond words. I have been twice now to Alaska to specifically see coastal brown bears and I have a third trip planned for next year.”
She also has another trip planned for November this year to South Georgia, Antarctica where she will photograph king penguins, elephant seals and albatross. This will be her second trip to the Antarctic, as she went there in November 2017. On that trip she photographed Adélie, Gentoo and chinstrap penguins.
“The Gentoo are winners from climate change. They’re able to adapt because they have a broader diet, whereas chinstrap and Adélie, not so,” Bronwyn says.
However there is one animal that she has her heart set on capturing in the perfect photograph.
“It’s polar bears that I’ve always wanted to see.”
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Bronwyn has a special place in her heart for Norway, and in particular Svarlbard (the islands between Norway and the North Pole).
“Norway is pretty; it’s really stunning. Since I first went to Norway in 1995 I had wanted to get back there. I nearly got up to Svarlbard, but back then it was not that popular a place to go to, and we rang and asked could we go, and they said ‘yes, you can come, but you’d be pretty much confined to the town of Longyearbyen’, and it’s Tinonee-sized. And we couldn’t get out on boats because there were no tourists, the snow was melting and that was that,” she says.
“So we decided not to do it and to continue to the top of Norway. But I came home with a burning desire to go. It was relatively unknown then.”
She travelled to Greenland in 2001 when she was using a 35mm film SLR camera, but says she didn’t really start travelling for photography until 2014. Since then she has been to Norway three times, Alaska three times, and the Antarctic once.
When asked why she is drawn to the cold climates and their animals, Bronwyn’s reply is “because we don’t have them.”
I point out to her we don’t have lions or tigers or elephants, either.
“It’s hot there! Like, hello, when you’re feeling live an oven, do you go to the oven?” she laughs.
“You just don’t get those landscapes here. It’s the light, there are no trees; it’s totally different to where I work.”
Recent travels to the Arctic have not left Bronwyn with a warm and fuzzy feeling, as she has seen first hand the effects of climate change.
“When I did my last trip to the Arctic in 2016, it was sad. I came home feeling sad, feeling quite remorseful, because you can see how far the glaciers have retreated.”
Bronwyn is completely self taught in the art of photography, and thoroughly enjoys perusing photography books.
“I love buying the Wildlife Photographer of the Year books - the ones that are Natural History Museum’s. They’re really big. I enjoy looking through those.”
She also draws inspiration from other photographers.
“There are many photographers that I draw inspiration from both here in Australia and overseas. If I had to chose a few I would say Jim Brandenburg, USA; Ole Jørgen Liodden, Norway; and Paul Nicklen and Daisy Gilardini, Canada. My heart is with nature photography, specifically ethical wildlife photography - I have always been an animal lover,” she says.
While Bronwyn travels to the greatest lengths to photograph animals, her favourite animals are generally birds. Not, however, for photography.
“They’re so hard. You need to be quiet and close, and let them come to you. So you need patience and a lot of time,” she says.
Photography is not Bronwyn’s only artistic pursuit. She has been learning the violin, and she loves to write.
“I’d like to be able to write some stories to accompany photographs. Writing was my first love. If you’d have asked me in school what I wanted to do, it was to be a writer.”
While she’d love to combine a career of photography with writing, Bronwyn’s more immediate goal is to win Australian Photographer of the Year. And to capture that elusive perfect polar bear shot.
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