Call of the Wildman

January 6, 2012

By Jacqui Palumbo

© Jonathan Hanson

Turtleman, from Animal Planet's "Call of the Wildman."<br />

This past August, Baltimore-based photographer Jonathan Hanson received an assignment from Animal Planet through his rep, Aurora Novus. He travelled to Kentucky for a shoot with Turtleman, star of the then-upcoming series “Call of the Wildman.” The show follows the YouTube sensation as he runs his own animal nuisance-removal service, and documents the crazy situations that come with the territory.

Hanson was provided with a general shot list, an outline and a trailer of the show, but the rest of was up to him. Hanson says he loves a loose set of rules. “It relieves the pressure when I can realize my vision of the story without distinctive instructions,” he explains. It’s a delicate balance that Hanson does well. He doesn’t impose on his subjects. Rather, he brings attributes to light that already existed but are only fully realized through his lens.

At the center of all of Hanson’s projects is a love for storytelling. He incorporates narratives, whether implied or stated, into his journalistic and commercial work and takes a documentary approach. He prefers to use natural light when possible to help bring an unidealized sensibility to his photographs. Hanson also thinks it’s very important to be able to adapt to any given circumstance. “It enables me to obtain access to many unique situations.”

Hunting snapping turtles with the Turtleman was a unique experience, and Hanson ended up knee-deep in the mud with him. “It inspired a great dialog with the subject and enabled me to the truly connect and document the story.”

Despite working in tandem with the video crew during the filming of the show, Hanson reveals a different side to Turtleman’s personality. While the show plays up his larger than life personality, his trademark yodel and his southern drawl, Hanson’s portraits show a wider range of traits. His strength is shown in an iconic image of Turtleman knee deep in water, straining to pull a giant turtle from the water. In another photo, he cranes over a barrel to look at the captured turtle with two young children, sharing their fascination. Throughout the portraits there is a sense of community, and a connection between him and his friends that make the Turtleman seem a little more human.

The full set of images can be seen on Hanson’s blog. For more of his work, visit his Web site.