I ran into Tom Mangelesen in Jackson, Wyoming, while on a trip to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Tom has a wonderful gallery there, and as I looked at his wildlife photography I started talking to Tom’s business partner and longtime friend about the gallery. I discovered a lot of interesting aspects about the business of art, and what it takes to be an artist entrepreneur.
I am not easily impressed nor do I give out compliments lightly; however, this one is certainly deserved. Tom Mangelesen is a fantastic photographer. He is undeniably one of the premier nature photographers in the world. He is the ultimate purist and never digitally manipulates his pictures. His art focuses on three main elements: patience, light, and behavior. In 1994 the BBC honored him as the “Wildlife Photographer of the Year,” which is the single most prestigious international award for nature photography. In 2000 he was honored as The North American Nature Photography Association “Outstanding Photographer of the Year.” In 2001 Tom co-founded The Cougar Fund, a nonprofit organization which “is about changing how we view and why we persecute this rare and elusive predator,” the mountain lion. His passion, and business, is connecting people to their natural world. It is my pleasure to present my interview with Tom Mangelsen.
SM: Tom, let’s go back to where your story begins. Where are you from, and how did you grow up? What is the genesis of your story?
TM: I grew up in Grand Island, Nebraska. I was born in 1946. At the time the town had 23,000 people, and it is not far from the Platte River, where my dad had a one-room schoolhouse. My parents and grandparents were born and raised in Grand Island. One of my grandparents had a furniture store and the other had a wallpaper and paint store. My dad worked for the first five-and-dime store [in Grand Island], which was started by David Kaufman from New York City. My dad was fascinated with the dime store business.
He would go to New York City at lot on buying trips. He was also an avid sportsman and duck and goose hunter. When he was not working he was out hunting and fishing. He took me out hunting and fishing from the time I was walking. He would take me out to the blind, and that is where I learned to observe wildlife, especially ducks and geese.
SM: You had a father who had a passion for retail and a passion for being an outdoorsman.
TM: He taught me about patience and about waiting for that flock of ducks or geese to come along. Patience is now one of my stronger assets.
SM: The moments you have captured are amazing.
TM: It takes time. It takes a lot of time. I got it from my dad. I learned it by sitting in the duck blind for days or weeks waiting for the flock of duck or geese to come up the river. I didn’t know any better; I thought that is what people did.
We lived in Grand Island until 1956. Kaufman sold the store to a chain store, and my dad was not interested in working for a chain. He wanted to do his own store so we moved. We kept the cabin, and my older brother started working in the store and I spent most of my time out fishing and looking for arrowheads.
SM: Had you started photography yet?
TM: No. I never took a picture until 1969, after I graduated from college.