Wolves: Photography by Ronan Donovan
October 21, 2023 – February 11, 2023
Imagine taking an intimate look into the lesser-known lives of wild wolves through the lens of a decorated National Geographic photographer. Set to debut at the High Desert Museum on Saturday, October 21, the travelling exhibition Wolves: Photography by Ronan Donovan offers Museum visitors that remarkable opportunity.
The stunning exhibition, created by the National Geographic Society and the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, will feature Donovan’s images and videos of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and on Ellesmere Island in the high Canadian Artic. Since 2014, the National Geographic Explorer and photographer has examined the relationship between wild wolves and humans to better understand the animals, our shared history and what drives the persistent human-wolf conflict.
“This exhibition is timely as the wolf population increases in the High Desert ecosystem,” says High Desert Museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw, Ph.D. “After a decades-long absence, wolves are once again our neighbors. The work by Ronan Donovan gives us insight into how we might all coexist together.”
Wolves is the kickoff to a series of exhibitions and programs over the next year at the Museum that will explore the Endangered Species Act, which was signed into law 50 years ago.
Wolves: Photography by Ronan Donovan will introduce visitors to the daily lives of wolves in the Arctic with unparalleled intimacy — how they hunt, play, travel and rest in one of the harshest environments on Earth. By contrast, the wolves of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are fearful of humans, making it more difficult to document their daily lives. One of the distinctions made clear in the exhibit’s images is Donovan’s ability to get closer to wolf pups in the Arctic, which allowed the photographer to document behaviors he had never seen in Yellowstone. Donovan attributes these differences to the fact that Arctic wolves rarely experience negative encounters with humans or view them as a threat.
“Wolves are such a fascinating animal to me because of how complex their relationship is with humans,” Donovan says in a statement from National Geographic. “Wolves were the first animals humans domesticated some 30,000 years ago and they have lived alongside us ever since as guardians, workers and companions. Yet as humans moved to more sedentary lives, raising what amounts to easy prey in the form of livestock, wolves have found themselves in conflict with humans.”
Donovan, a field biologist turned conservation photographer and filmmaker, hopes that his photos will provide people with a better understanding of these often-misunderstood animals.
“The way that a culture views wolves can reveal a lot about how a society interacts with their environment—is there a belief of power over animals, or is there a collective shared landscape?” Donovan says. “As a visual storyteller, my goal is to portray my subjects in their most authentic way by showing the challenges they face as well as the tender moments between family members in order to evoke a shared emotion that the viewer can connect with.”
Through these emotional shared connections, Donovan hopes exhibition visitors will see wolves as they are: powerful, intelligent, social mammals that have evolved to live in family structures similar to humans.
“Our goal in exhibiting Wolves: Photography by Ronan Donovan at the High Desert Museum is to familiarize visitors with the past, present and future of gray wolves in the region,” says Museum Donald M. Kerr Curator of Natural History Hayley Brazier, Ph.D. “The recent expansion of wolf packs into their historic ranges can be a divisive issue, but it’s a timely topic that the Museum is equipped to facilitate a conversation about. We hope our visitors leave with a more nuanced understanding of wolves and their growing presence in the High Desert.”
The visuals presented throughout Wolves: Photography by Ronan Donovan were captured from Donovan’s National Geographic Society-funded work and featured in National Geographic magazine’s 2016 issue on Yellowstone and in the September 2019 issue, as well as the National Geographic WILD series Kingdom of the White Wolf in 2019, which is available on Disney+.
Wolves: Photography by Ronan Donovan is open through February 11, 2024. It’s made possible by the Visit Central Oregon Future Fund with support from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation and Tonkin Corp.
Wolves: Photography by Ronan Donovan is organized and traveled by the National Geographic Society.
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