Brian Hampton can tell you some hair-raising stories from his photography travels around the world, and he did at the opening of the Rockford Art Museum’s feature exhibition called Exposed: Akerlund, Hampton, Nordlof.
The exhibition opened the weekend of April 26 highlighting the work of Nels Akerlund, Hampton and Bradley Nordlof. Each brought a distinctive style and focus to the exhibition. Akerlund is known for his unique portraits of prominent people in the Rockford area, Hampton for his wildlife photography and Nordlof for his landscape photography. Each artist gave a short lecture, fielding questions from attendees about the images brought to life with wide-format inkjet printing.
Hampton fielded a lot of questions about the shot he captured of a silverback gorilla in Rwanda. It was the largest print selected from Hampton’s collection for the exhibition at 44″ x 66″, printed on LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper.
The capture is stunning, but the story behind what happened after the capture is, in hindsight, both terrifying and humorous. Hampton relates that the group trekking up the mountain to see the gorillas was warned by their guide to look out for any nervous behavior amongst the gorillas. Hampton took the warning to heart and told his wife, Donna, to “keep the video rolling in case something happens; it might be double indemnity on the insurance,” Hampton recalls.
Sure enough, that big silverback got nervous. Hampton could hear the guide saying, “He’s nervous. He’s nervous. Move back. Move back.” Hampton was about 30 feet away at the time when the gorilla charged. The guide told Hampton to hit the ground, cover up his head and not to look at him.
Now fully engaged with the ground below him, head covered, Hampton peered out of the corner of his eye to see two hairy feet right next to him.
“I heard something go snap, then seconds later he whacked me in the back with a sapling tree I was standing next to. It didn’t really hurt, but I wondered what he was going to do next. After 10 or 15 seconds he started walking away. It looked like he made his point and he was going to move on. I stood up, the guide came up to me laughing and gave me high fives,” recalls Hampton. “I turned to Donna and asked if she got the video. The guide laughed and said, ‘She was running so fast the other way that there’s no way she took any video.'”
And so it is when you’re in the bush, so to speak, whether it’s Africa or Alaska, two of Hampton’s favorite places to shoot.
Each of the photographers displayed around 25 images at the exhibition. Hampton’s images were loaned out from a restaurant, a jeweler and a corporate headquarters that proudly display his Africa work. The images generally ranged in size from 30″ x 40″ to 40″ x 60″, with some exceptions such as the silverback gorilla close-encounter image.
“All of the images looked very nice because the art gallery has new lighting, high ceilings and black walls; the images really popped,” says Hampton.