CHANGING THE FRAME
It could have been a lot different. After graduating from Gould in 2001, Ronan studied international business and economics at the University of New Hampshire. He interviewed with a big firm in Boston and was offered a job in finance. But it didn’t feel right, and he turned the position down. Instead, he followed his passion for wildlife and the outdoors and soon found himself working in Yosemite National Park
catching, banding, and monitoring spotted owls. He bought a camera just before he left for California in 2006.
“I had a curiosity about photography, though it wasn’t a driving force in any way. But when I went to Yosemite, it was this place of Ansel Adams, and the landscapes just got me incredibly excited. The valley, the mountains, and the big cliffs...it’s incredible. And, I had this view into an animal’s life that I never knew was possible. I became obsessed with photographing wildlife.”
He shot on film that first year, and kept a journal of every frame, meticulously cataloging his camera settings. “Wildlife biology and being in Yosemite. That was the start. I was hooked, that was my spark. That is what I wanted to be doing.”
LOOKING THROUGH A DIFFERENT LENS
Spotted owls led to a job monitoring marine mammals and sea turtles from ships that were mapping the seafloor for oil and gas. It was most likely a public relations move for the corporation, still, it afforded him long breaks between trips, and it brought him to Africa for the first time.
He took photos everywhere he went. Photography was what he wanted to do, but he still didn’t see it as a viable career. “The goal wasn’t to be a photographer. I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know what it was to work for National Geographic. I thought photography was selling prints and doing workshops. I didn’t know anything about storytelling or the journalism element of it. I had no idea.” He spent all of the money he had at the time on an expensive 800mm telephoto lens and was preoccupied with capturing the closest, most detailed portraits of animals.
It wasn’t until 2011 when he was in Uganda’s Kibale Forest National Park with Caroline that his thinking about the photographic medium began to shift. Those close-up images were impressive, but they didn’t tell a story.