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Photo Safari

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
1 min read

The podcast I just did with Jon Wilkening brought up a lot of topics centered around photography in the 1990s. Why the 90s?

I consider the 1990s the golden age of film photography. The amounts and variety of new film, film cameras, paper and chemicals would never be better.

Something that was missing, though, was the amount and variety of instructional and inspirational video content we enjoy today. There was no YouTube back then.

But there was Photo Safari.

Photo Safari was a weekend morning, half-hour TV show that changed networks and formats multiple times. It started as a way to tag along, through video, with icons of nature and wildlife photography, like Art Wolfe and Robert Glenn Ketchum, as they worked in the field. They would pass along tips to the camera or to guests.

Gear-wise, it was anything goes. You really got a feel for how professional photographers at the top of their game were just using rugged, reliable (even constraining) gear, not the latest Leica.

I tuned in (or taped on my VCR) for the inspiration of watching a master at work. Then, I'd grab my camera, call a friend and find a good place to shoot, emulating the masters. I did this for years back in my 20s.

Eventually, ratings reality caught up with Photo Safari and the niche show changed its name to Canon Photo Safari, as its sponsor transformed it into little more than a weekly infomercial. All the photographers were required to use Canons, which left out all my favorite photographers, who had endorsement deals with Nikon and Pentax (not to mention the large format shooters). Celebrity photographer guests, like William Shatner and David Allen Greer, became more of a distraction on the show. In an effort to gain a wider audience, the show lost its devoted, hobbyist fans.

I love that Youtube and Vimeo have brought us a new universe of photography knowledge, but I miss that weekly hit of inspiration I got from the masters on this tiny, quiet show about my favorite hobby.

I tried to dig up some episodes of Photo Safari's early years, but only managed to find a few clips from Canon's version of the show on Youtube. I guess I'll need to dig through the VHS tapes piled at my parents' house if I want to relive this part of the golden age of film.