Safari adventure is brought to life through a lens

NEIGHBORS

June 23, 2004|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PHOTOGRAPHER Paul Marycz is an adventurous artist who engages his subject matter.

"I reached out my hand and touched [a lion] just before he plunked down to get some shade," said Marycz, describing the two-week African safari he took with his wife, Susan, in January 2001.

About 20 of his photographs and a book of snapshots will be displayed next month at Artists' Gallery in the American City Building.

"His photos really bring his stories to life," said Pat Roberie, speaking for the cooperative gallery. "They make you feel like you were there. ... But they are more than just travel photos; they have a high artistic quality."

Paul and Susan Marycz, who live in Clemens Crossing, joined 16 other Americans on the guided safari. The trip took them to five national parks in Kenya and Tanzania. Their travels included flights with bush pilots and drives over rough terrain to watch game.

"It's truly amazing how Africa is just teeming with animals," said Marycz, who shot 50 rolls of film.

"The whole experience was like a zoo turned upside down," he said. "In a zoo, the animals are caged up and the people walk around. [On a safari], the people are in protected areas, like a vehicle, and the animals roam free."

One of the most memorable spots was the volcanic Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. The group stayed in lodges high on the crater's rim.

"When you are up on the rim, you really can't see any animals," Marycz said. "When we went down in the crater on a game drive, there were lions, black rhinos, buffaloes, ... zebras, wildebeest, elephants and even some baboons."

It was in the crater that Marycz touched the lion.

"We came upon a pride of lions," he said. "It's so intensely hot - the lions and the cubs just wanted shade. The best thing for them to do was to walk to the vehicle. They would lay down right next to the truck to get out of the sun - they didn't realize the truck was full of food, people. We all were told to stay very quiet. The engine was turned off. One walked on my side of the vehicle and he stopped. I reached my hand out and touched him ... The lion's hair was very coarse. ... Of course, the tour guide admonished me."

"It took a while for it to sink in that he was actually touching a lion," Susan Marycz said.

The group enjoyed day after day of drives to watch for game. Occasionally, they stopped for picnics, with the animals not far away.

"There were black kites, very aggressive birds that are the size of hawks," Paul Marycz said. "Their wingspan is probably about 4 feet. We were having a picnic. Someone was holding a sandwich, and the bird swooped down and took it right out of her hand. The talon scratched her.

"We stopped at a river where there were a large number of hippos and crocs bathing. Hippos are very dangerous. We were invited to get out and walk around. One hippo got into the water and came back toward us; our walkabout was finished. Hippos really are huge. If they grab your leg, you lose it."

The group also saw herds of elephants at Amboseli National Park in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, a 20,000-foot snowy volcanic peak. The park covers 150 square miles in southern Kenya.

"It was neat seeing smaller herds [of elephants] with the babies," Paul Marycz said. "You assume the rest were different ages by how wrinkled and how big they were. It was interesting to see elephants so up-close. You could see the face; even the eyelashes. In the distance, you could see some others in the grass. Some walked right by the vehicle."

The group got close to giraffes, hyenas, cheetahs and zebras. The animals were not always serene.

"On an afternoon game drive, we came across a mother lion and her young son," Marycz said. "They chased a warthog into a hole in the ground. ... We watched the two as they devoured the warthog."

It was one of many perfect opportunities for pictures.

"Our group used about four or five vans," Marycz said. "The drivers were on walkie-talkies to each other: `There's a lion here,' or `a herd of elephants there.' The drivers were very helpful in getting close to the animals. They tried to position themselves so you had a very good opportunity to take pictures; they even angled the truck so the lighting was good. The vans had large windows that opened, and a sandbag-type thing to help hold cameras level and still. They had sunroofs. You could stand up and take photos."

Of course, with nature, there isn't always time to line up a perfect shot. "Sometimes I just put my arm out the window and clicked furiously, getting as many pictures as I could," Marycz said.

The lifestyle of the Maasai people also caught his attention. The Maasai, who have traditionally lived in a communal society, are known as seminomadic herders and warriors. They live in huts made from mud, dung and other materials, Marycz said.

"Here they are living in mud huts, but their clothing and their beadwork is just so colorful," he said. "I took some photos to show the colors. Then I took some black and whites, so that you could really look at their expressions and not be distracted by the colors."

Marycz says he hopes his photos will give people a sense of Africa's danger and excitement.

"The trip really gives you a sense of how those people live," he said. "That kind of environment with those kinds of animals is alien to Americans."

The exhibit will be open from July 5 to 30. A reception is planned from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. July 9. Artists' Gallery is at 10227 Wincopin Circle. Information: 410-740-8249.

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