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The Upper Delaware from Behind the Lens


NARROWSBURG — “Ferocious sells,” according to nature photographer John DiGiorgio. “But I won’t do that,” he said. “If you understand the animal, you don’t want to do anything other than enjoy it.”

Otters - John DiGiorgio
Photo by John DiGiorgio
Sensationalized photographs of bears, he said, can create an awareness of the animal as a grizzly beast. “When you see a picture of a big bear, you’re thinking trophy, but that’s sending the wrong message out.”

DiGiorgio’s artistic philosophy, rooted in early years spent on his family’s farm in Rockaway Township, NJ, has grown under the influences of photographers like Frans Lanting and Arthur Morris. “When you look at their photography, it’s just beauty,” he said.

That’s what DiGiorgio aims for in his own work, primarily color photographs of animals in their natural settings. “I look for that little twinge in the eye, I look for that natural look… that little special moment that the animal has.”

That’s not to say he hasn’t photographed graphic images. “I do have photographs that [make] you want to pick your gun up and play Daniel Boone—but I try to photograph an animal showing how timid and beautiful it is, not how ferocious.”

Inspired by the abundant wildlife he encounters while exploring the Upper Delaware region, DiGiorgio is putting his philosophy into action. He and his wife, Yoka, during the summer of 2000, began Nature’s Art LLC, “dedicated to capturing images and promoting awareness of the beauty and wild heritage of our wildlife.” The venture was unveiled at the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance’s annual Riverfest.

Bald Eagle - John DiGiorgio
Photo by John DiGiorgio
Residents of New Jersey, the DiGiorgios own a second home in Narrowsburg, a log cabin perched on the banks of the Delaware’s Big Eddy. DiGiorgio, who has been photographing for nearly 20 years, said, “I’ve spent the last two years dedicated to this area.”

His introduction to the diversity of species found in the Upper Delaware was a bald eagle sighting while kayaking with Yoka. “About four years ago we saw a bald eagle,” DiGiorgio said. “It was hard to believe, because no one ever really spoke about the bald eagles up here.”

Since that time, he has “gotten into photographing eagles,” and his photographs have been used by the Sullivan County Visitors Association and The Eagle Institute as well as appearing in TRR. “I have an extensive collection of eagle shots,” said DiGiorgio, “more so than guys I know who go to Alaska once or twice a year.”

DiGiorgio’s vision for the Upper Delaware is to establish the region as a resource to other photographers. “I don’t think that the public understands how much there is in this area…You can photograph otters, a bobcat, you can go after foxes. If you’re really patient, you can photograph coyotes and bears.”

DiGiorgio told a story about friends going to the Great Smokey Mountains to photograph white-tailed deer. “We have more than enough white tail and bucks up here, while they’re traveling six or eight hours to that area.”

Deer - John DiGiorgio
Photo by John DiGiorgio
While he photographs throughout the tri-state area, DiGiorgio spends most of his time “up and down the river,” and he and Yoke find subjects while kayaking or hiking. “A lot of times we just jump in the jeep and take off, and if we see a beaver dam or something, we’ll stop, and take out a spotting scope and see what’s out there,” he said.

DiGiorgio’s photographs reflect his ability to sit for hours in quiet observation. “I like to do portraiture,” he said, “tight, up-close photos.” His technique comes from his rapport with his subjects. “I can get very close. I don’t know what it is, but I can virtually walk up to an animal and play with it.”

“He has a lot of patience,” said Yoke, who accompanies her husband on many photographing adventures. DiGiorgio’s camera equipment facilitates his efforts to record candid portraits. “I use 6,000- to 12,000-meter lenses so I don’t disturb the eagles. They know I’m there, because of their phenomenal sense of smell and sight, but I’m not close enough to be distracting. I can spend hours watching them.

“I like to photograph an animal moving its head in all different natural ways. Every look is just slightly different.”

DiGiorgio said it is important to become familiar with a species before photographing it in the field. “I research a species so I know its behavioral traits. I’ll get documentary films if I can. I’ll make phone calls to other photographers or biologists who specialize in the species so I know what its traits are… what to expect, what not to expect, how to conduct myself.”

DiGiorgio related how he learned to “conduct himself” in the event of a bear charge. “The first guy that taught me how to deal with bears told me, ‘They’re going to display [charge at you]. If you run, they’ll come after you. If you stand ground they’ll come up and stop within feet of you and turn back.’” DiGiorgio does not use guns or bear spray. “You really don’t need to if you understand the species,” he said.

That is what Nature’s Art is about, according to DiGiorgio. “We think if we use photography to create an awareness of the area, to show the wildlife that’s in the area, more people will become in tune with the wildlife and will respect it. And I think it will attract photographers.”

For more information on Nature’s Art, call the DiGiorgios at 845/252-6509.

News & columns provided by The River Reporter