Gelada Baboons, Bronx Zoo

Over the years I’ve been only been to a few zoos, always while travelling. There aren’t many options to see exotic animals in Montana. Of course, I can just go outside or drive up the road to see a wide array of wildlife. Eagles, bears (though I’d rather not see those in the wild), bison, elk, etc… animals that often have their own exhibits at zoos with lines queued to see their majesty up close and in person.

Eagles always give me a giggle in a zoo setting. Not that they aren’t amazing birds, but it isn’t uncommon to see ten or more at once at our local landfill in the summer. It ruins the magic a little.

But the animals we can’t see here? Primates, lions, giraffes, exotic birds, crocodiles, hippos… they are the reason I go to zoos.

My first zoo was in Seattle when I was a teenager. I don’t remember much about it other than having the privilege of watching a hippo defecate quite explosively as we walked by. Otherwise, many of the animals were sleeping, tucked away from the humid summer heat.

Since then, I have added the San Diego Zoo, San Antonio Zoo, and most recently, Bronx zoo to my list. Other than feeding a giraffe at the San Antonio zoo, the highlights for me have always been the primates. When we come home at the end of the day, those photos are always my favorite. Perhaps it is their humanlike behaviors, or their stoic silence, but I always leave in awe.

Lion, Bronx Zoo

This last week at the Bronx Zoo, their exhibits were once again my favorite. A mist had settled in for the day, keeping the crowds and temperatures down, and the entire zoo was alive. Big cats roamed their enclosures, a rare experience in my limited zoo visits. The lions prowled. The tiger sauntered a path through the grass before flopping down in the mud. A jaguar paced irritably through the trees.

Gorilla, Bronx Zoo

In the gorilla enclosure, a pair huddled right up next to the glass giving ample opportunities for selfies though they refused to humor the spectators with high-fives through the glass. In the distance, another held court over the enclosure like a king.

Gorilla, Bronx Zoo

As our tour came to a close, we stopped at the baboon enclosure. And then we stayed for at least a half an hour. There were five baboons: one male, two females, and two young ones. It was like watching a circus act. The young one, who were both still nursing their mothers, climbed over the rocks with varying levels of success trying to reach the top. The youngest tried his hardest to mimic the older one’s efforts, but more often then not he ended up with his rear in the air in the opposite direction it should have been. They picked on each other, helped each other, fell on each other, then took breaks to nurse and have their fur picked through by their mothers. All while the male alternated between prowling and preening, occasionally galloping across the grass to the top of the hill where he paced over his kingdom.

Gelada Baboons, Bronx Zoo
Gelada Baboons, Bronx Zoo
Gelada Baboons, Bronx Zoo

We could have watched them for hours. Even the peacocks decided to put on a show, spreading their tails and prancing around for the female who made the rounds past no less than four of them strutting their stuff.

Peacock, Bronx Zoo

The peacocks were fun. Where I grew up, we had quite a few peacocks, but I don’t think I could count on one hand the amount of times I have seen them strutting around with their tales up. It was a nice addition to what turned out to be an absolutely phenomenal day at the zoo. I love New York, and every venture to that side of the country is always a treat. This last week was no exception.

Inspiration: Photography

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

Photographs can be powerful tools for inspiration. For many years, I carried a camera around with me whenever I went somewhere new or even well known so that I could take pictures to go along with my writing. Initially, it was on hiking or camping trips to find hidden locations that would fit into the setting of Kingdom Burning. They were never great pictures, not even something to hang on the wall, but they gave me tactile imagery to help build the fantasy world around my characters. Montana is a great place for mystical forests.

Nearing high school graduation, I decided to go to college for photography rather than English. The decision still baffles me a little bit, as at that point photography was a fairly new passion where I had been writing since I was a kid. I think the decision came from teenage close-mindedness and the absolute loathing at the time of literary and poetry analysis, which when going over course options was a large part of an English degree. And, I didn’t want to be a teacher, which was the most prominent thing to do with an English degree at the time. Point being, I went to college for photography – just a two year degree, but that was enough to help hone my skills. I have dabbled in portrait photography ever since, until last year when I started my own business. I also photograph coins for a living, a job I never would have looked into had it not been for my degree.

I shoot with a DSLR, which is a big clunky thing that is hard to carry around all the time for the chance of finding something interesting to photograph. But I ALWAYS have my phone on me. It has a decent camera and over the last few years I have collected over a thousand pictures, probably a third of which are of my cats. The rest, however, are of the things I see during the day as I walk around downtown, the things I find when I go on a road trip, the experiences that I am obsessed with documenting. When I photograph people, I am in control of the situation. I tell them where to stand, how to pose, where to look, whether or not to smile. It is a calculated process, aimed at giving a client the perfect image to remember that moment in their life. Children are a little less planned – I dare to to try and pose a two year old – but as I approach the subject there is still a goal in mind. I arrive at a location knowing what types of photographs I am going to be taking.

The images that I take on my phone are the complete opposite. I am in a constant mode of observation, even when I am walking the same three blocks back to my car after work. I look to the windows of the buildings around me, I watch the cracks on the sidewalk, I make a point of noticing things. There is always something seemingly insignificant that can catch my eye. I consider these moments found images. There is no posing involved, no placing of an object to get the right perspective. I move around the subject, chose my angle, frame the image to give it my perspective.

A while back I asked myself, what am I doing with all of these pictures? Even as I sorted through them and delete the pointless or repetitive ones, there are others that I just can’t get rid of. They speak to me, they are each a moment that has been frozen in time. I realized they are another outlet for the creative nature of my imagination. Without even realizing it, I began creating my own form of visual art. And I am in love with it. I can’t wait for the next moment that will catch my eye. I can’t wait to take that image and turn it into something more.

That moment when the sun sets and road seems endless and free:

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

The moment when the light from the window highlights peace and affection:

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

The moment of infinity on the ocean shore:

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014


Beauty surrounds us, and just as the characters  in my imagination walk beside me every day, these beats of time inspire me to keep creating and living in the moment. It keeps my heart content.


View more images here: Moments Urban Landscapes