Adirondack Museum Presents Night Vision The Wildlife Photography of Hobart Vosburg Roberts

The Adirondack Museum presents Night Vision: The Wildlife Photography of Hobart Vosburg Roberts on view MAY 27 — OCTOBER 17, 2011.

Roberts will introduce the pioneering work of this Adirondack photographer. Roberts (1874-1959) was one of a small corps of amateur photographers who developed ingenious techniques for doing what no one had done before: capturing birds and animals in their natural habitat without disturbing or distracting them with a human presence. Most notably, the Utica native was a participant in the early 20th century conservation movement, led by President Theodore Roosevelt, who advocated for the careful stewardship of the country’s natural resources.

Infinitely patient, Hobart Roberts developed a thorough knowledge of Adirondack wildlife and their habits. Deer jacking (placing a light source in the bow of a boat to hunt deer at night) inspired Roberts to consider night photography, “perpetuating on his films the beautiful forms of animals as he had glimpsed them in the midnight mystery of the forest.” A feature article in the New York Times, August 26, 1928, described Roberts “hunting with a camera in the Adirondacks.”

Roberts rigged his canoe with two cameras and a flash pan. Rowing quietly, he would edge as near to a deer or other wild creature as possible. Two flashes timed a second apart allowed Roberts to capture the leap of a deer or a loon taking flight; the first flash startled the animals into movement; the camera recorded the animals as the second flash illuminated their flight from the noise and smoke. Roberts’ camera caught deer in mid-leap and birds taking flight, some of the first night action photographs of wild animals.

Roberts also developed trip wires and attached bait to the camera shutter and flash mechanism so animals would essentially take their own portraits. In one instance, he rigged a moisture proof camera to a fine brass wire set in the water with a live fish attached. The fish, struggling to break free, attracted a Great Blue Heron, which tripped the camera and synchronized flash as it pulled on the fish. Roberts also recorded mink, raccoon, owl, fox, beaver, and skunk using tuna as bait.

The patience and tenacity Roberts exercised in his work is perhaps best evident in his images of loons. These shy birds are naturally wary of humans, yet Roberts photographed them at close range many times. In an attempt to fool the birds, he had his assistant row about and converse with a dummy dressed in his clothes while he waited behind a blind to get the shot.
More than merely endearing (although they are), Roberts’ Adirondack wildlife photographs represent an important breakthrough in science and the technology of photography. His work was published in Audubon Magazine, Country Life, Modern Photography, and The National Geographic Magazine. Famed photographer Edward Steichen selected Roberts’ work for inclusion in U.S. Camera 1940, along with the images of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Eliot Porter.

Roberts also received recognition with numerous awards and exhibitions across the country and in England, Italy, and Austria.

“Night Vision” will feature approximately 35 original large-format Roberts photographs of Adirondack wildlife. Roberts’ camera equipment, colored lithographic prints, hand-colored transparencies, published works, and his many awards will also be exhibited. Label text will describe not only the photographer’s techniques, but also his own accounts of working in the Adirondacks. Exhibited in the Woods and Waters gallery, the exhibit will also explore the habits and habitats of the Adirondack animals Roberts knew so well and captured on film.

Image: “Wing Power” by Hobart Roberts

Adirondack Museum
P.O. Box 99 / Route 28N/30
Blue Mountain Lake, NY 12812
Phone: 518.352.7311
Fax: 518.352.7653

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