Glowing Peaks: Hidden treasures abound in photographer Josh Metten’s work

By on January 17, 2018

The Tetons and one well-hidden moose take center stage in photographer Josh Metten’s photograph.

The thing everyone notices first in the photograph is the Tetons. Morning sunlight makes the peaks glow. But on closer examination, toward the bottom of the frame, hidden in the shade, is a moose. Once noticed, it often becomes people’s favorite thing about the image, said photographer Josh Metten. That photograph is the perfect example of Metten’s relationship with the landscape of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“The mountains sometimes overshadow the wildlife within in them, but the wildlife are an integral part of it, and to me the most amazing part of this area,” he said.

Metten, a guide with Jackson Hole Eco Tour Wildlife Adventures, is sharing his favorite part of living in the area — the wildlife — in a photography show at Cowboy Coffee. The show hangs through January and features Metten’s images documenting winter in the Greater Yellowstone. He is donating 20 percent of proceeds from any sales of his work to the nonprofit conservation group the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Metten moved to Jackson from Fort Collins, Colorado, about eight years ago to teach experimental education. He worked for the Teton Science School until about four years ago, when he began guiding for Jackson Hole Eco Tour Wildlife Adventures.

“We’re telling stories and trying to communicate about conservation issues and trying to communicate the beauty of the landscape,” he said of the job.

Photography became a natural conduit to help tell those stories. His job as a guide also provided plenty of opportunities to practice the craft and learn the landscape and where animals spent time.

“Wildlife photograph is often a numbers game,” he said. “You just have to go out over and over again. You have to be out there.”

Metten’s job allowed him to take thousands of photographs through the years. His favorites are the ones that go deeper and tell a story beyond the beauty of the mountains and valleys.

One image of a coyote fishing seems at first a simple, pretty animal portrait, Metten said. But the spot it chose to sit is shallow and full of fish, pushed to the spot by ice forming around it. Coyotes often sit and wait for an otter to pop up with a fish the coyote can steal, he said.

“That’s a neat story of tenacity of an animal,” Metten said.

Another image shows a line of elk on the National Elk Refuge. The image tells a story of migration and movement, but it also shows how the females lead the herd to the best food, Metten said. Just by looking at it you might learn something new about elk.

The image also speaks to a larger conservation issue — feeding elk, Metten said. That single image opens the door to a conversation about the history of the animals in the area, how habitat loss threatened their survival, but also how feeding the animals today puts them at risk for disease.

“I really want to try to tell the stories behind those images,” Metten said.

For Metten, wildlife photography is more about telling those stories than simply creating a beautiful image. He’s lucky that his photography isn’t his primary source of income.

“I have a job, and my job is to communicate stories about this place to people and photography is a part of it,” he said. “You have to create compelling photographs to tell compelling stories.”

He hopes his work reminds people of just how special the Greater Yellowstone area is. It’s easy to forget and take it for granted when you live in the area, but it’s one of the last nearly intact temperate ecosystems on Earth, and the only place in the Lower 48 you can see the same major mammals Lewis and Clark documented on their famous expedition, he said.

Its why he chose to donate a portion of proceeds from his work to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, whose work helps preserve the wildness of the ecosystem, Metten said.

“Without the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, I wouldn’t have these photographs,” he said.

Metten created aluminum prints of his images. Its durable, easy to clean and hangs without requiring a frame, he said. He also loves the way it looks. He also will sell greeting cards created with his images. PJH

Josh Metten, photograph exhibit at Cowboy Coffee, hangs through January


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