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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Love, art, conservation, and the zen of photographing pink flamingos

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Claudio Contreras’ image of Caribbean flamingos about to take off to a roosting site at the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve was awarded as Best Image taken in Mexico and specially commended in the Animal Behavior category of the Por el Planeta (For the Planet) competition in 2015. Courtesy www.naturepl.com

Claudio Contreras Koob has been obsessed with flamingos since he was 4 years old.

“I am from Mexico City, but we have family here in Yucatán so we used to come every chance we got. I fell in love with the Peninsula right away and have not been able to keep away since,” says Claudio.

In one of Claudio Contreras’ most iconic photos, a Caribbean flamingo feeds her chick at the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Courtesy www.naturepl.com

As the years passed, Claudio’s passion for Yucatán and its wildlife only grew and eventually led him to a career as a biologist. 

“This special love I had for these magnificent pink birds developed into academic curiosity to understand their behavior and movements,” he recalls.

But soon Claudio realized his talents were not limited to science — and he began to photograph wildlife, first for fun and then professionally.  

Claudio’s work as a wildlife photographer has now entered its third decade. To celebrate this milestone he has released, with the publisher teNeues Verlag, a stunning new book, “Flamingo,” which features some of his best photographs of this unique and elegant bird.

The process of photographing flamingos is described by Claudio as “zen-like,” requiring a great deal of patience and an almost meditative state of concentration.

Over 130 of Claudio Contreras Koob’s photos are featured in Flamingo, published by teNeues Verlag. Right: Claudio Contreras Koob, photographed in Mexico City by Martha Alicia Salazar

“In the end, it’s all up to the animal, the photographer has very little control. But at the same time, one has to be ready to capture magical moments which may only last a fraction of a second. Luck, of course, is also a factor,” chuckles Claudio.

As flamingos are extremely skittish animals and prone to injury or even death when startled, Claudio is keen to highlight the importance of taking an approach with the lightest possible touch. 

Conservationists often note that the beauty of flamingos makes them great ambassadors for Yucatán’s wetlands. Protect flamingos, and the trickle-down effect ends up protecting entire ecosystems. 

“The goal of my photography is not just aesthetic. I want people to see these majestic animals through my lens, appreciate their beauty and come to love them as I do. This is not just for sentimental reasons, but because as humans we are more prone to protect that which we love,” reflects Claudio. 

Flamingo (224 pages, 1,886 pesos) is sold at Between the Lines, Calle 62 and 53, Centro. It is written in English, Spanish, and German.

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