HUNTING WITH A CAMERA
Walking into Ralph Thompson's home in Oklahoma City is like walking into an art gallery.
His walls are covered with beautiful photographs from around the world that Thompson has taken in the 60-plus years he has carried a camera.
For his professional job, Thompson held a gavel. He is a federal judge, retired from the U.S. Western District Court of Oklahoma. For his serious hobby, he held a Nikon.
“It makes me more observant of people, places and things,” Thompson said of his passion for photography.
Thompson, 83, has photographed people, places and things on every continent. Wildlife photography has been a major pursuit. He's snapped pictures of polar bears near the Arctic Circle. Penguins in Antarctica. Grizzly bears in Alaska.
“It's my way of enjoying hunting,” Thompson said. “I love the adventures and challenges of hunting. I love the creatures and being in the wild. I accept the disappointments for the wonderful rewards I occasionally get.”
His photography adventures have produced some harrowing experiences. Nearly stepping on a 7-foot cobra in Africa. Encountering a pride of 14 lions after a fresh kill in Africa. Experiencing 70-knot winds and 40-foot waves aboard a Russian ice breaker to Antarctica that kept the boat pitching and rolling for two days.
Thompson has never sold any of his photos, although he has donated several to charitable auctions over the years.
My friend and colleague at The Oklahoman, photographer Jim Beckel, was impressed with Thompson's collection after viewing it for the first time on Thursday. Thompson definitely has a “photographer's eye,” he said.
“Taking good photos is so much more than just putting a camera to your eye and pushing the shutter button," Beckel said. “He is able to create art.”
Like hunters, Thompson learned that patience is a virtue. His favorite wildlife photograph, two African giraffes with their necks extended and crossed like a set of swords, is a perfect example.
The pair of longnecks kept coming together and floating apart, and Thompson recognized there might be an opportunity for a rare photo.
“I thought they might just cross their necks, so I just waited,” Thompson said. “It was sweltering hot. Bugs were eating me. I was stiff and sore and tired, but I just waited and waited. Finally, they hit that perfect symmetry, and 'click.' I only took one. I only had a chance at one.”
It's just one magnificent photo in a lifetime collection.