Zoo story? Animals up close and personal

For his exhibit at the Second Street Gallery, National Geographic photographer Michael Nichols has gone enlargement crazy. He’s blown up his photos from 35 millimeter prints into absolutely huge, refrigerator-size ink jet prints. 
As promotional material for the exhibit is quick to point out, this maneuver has enlarged the images of the exotic animals which are the subjects of his photos to near-actual size. Some animals actually appear larger than life. For sure, the excitement of sheer bigness is a focus of this exhibit.
In fact, one gets the feeling, walking among the giant prints and listening to (no kidding) the cries of jungle animals piped in through gallery speakers, that Nichols and the gallery teamed up to try to replicate, as best they could, a zoo-like animal encounter in a gallery space. 
This is a little bit silly, but its certainly not unfun.
Nichols has notable technique and is also especially adept at making his images immediately arresting. His displayed photos rarely, if at all, highlight the animals’ environments, but rather zero right in on the animals themselves, the personality in their faces and poses, sometimes the dynamism in their movement. 
Shots of tigers and baboons catch the respective animals actually leaping right at the viewer. Another shot of chital deer caught mid-stride freezes the head of a single deer in focus at the center of the frame; the rest of the animals are partly obscured in the blur of the tall grass around them, a field of green and beige comets. 
This photo shows off Nichols’ skill at the concurrent use of sharpness and blur. Kids in particular will dig the action-filled shots, especially at their extreme scale.
The enlargement does have a trade-off, however. The ink-jet prints have robbed some of the images of their sharpness, and if you get too close to them, they start to dissolve into an abstract dot matrix. This effect is particularly hard on the single image of chimps hung in the hallway, where it’s not really physically possible to get far enough away from the photo to view it correctly or full effect.

Michael Nichols’ “Wildlife” runs through March 2 at the Second Street Gallery.  201 Second Street, NW.  977-7284.

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