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Local photographer heads to the jungle

SUMMIT COUNTY – Karin Prescott is living a dream.

“I’ve always had the dream of working with National Geographic,” the Summit Daily News photographer and long-time Dillon resident said. This week, she embarks on an adventure to make that dream a reality.

On Sunday, Prescott departed for National Geographic headquarters in Washington D.C., where she will begin a two-month internship with the magazine. A week later, she and staff photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols are heading to the jungles of Africa.



“I may never work for National Geographic, but this is a good start,” Prescott said.



Then and now

Prescott hasn’t always been a professional photographer.

She grew up in Summit County but went to high school in Europe, while her father, Chuck, worked in Saudi Arabia. Prescott attended boarding school in Switzerland her sophomore year and lived with her mother, Edith, in Greece during her junior year. Still in Greece, she spent her senior year on her own.

Prescott took her first photography class in Athens her junior year. It was there she got her first camera, an Olympus OM-10. It was a gift from her father in Saudi Arabia.

Though she was fascinated with “finding moments while they’re happening,” Prescott didn’t choose to pursue her love of photography when she went to Metropolitan State College of Denver. Instead, she earned a bachelor’s degree in physics.

After graduating, Prescott worked as a land surveyor for Range West in Frisco for about eight years. As time went on, she realized she was becoming further and further removed from her love of science.

“It made me re-evaluate where I was going with my career,” she said. “Photography was my other strong interest, aside from science.”

Already in her thirties, Prescott went back to school. This time, she earned a bachelor’s degree in photography from Montana State University in Bozeman.

“I’m a late bloomer,” she said, laughing. “I love the spontaneity of (photography).”

When she began working as a staff photographer for the Summit Daily in 2000, Prescott said she felt like the position “was beyond me, because I had no experience.”

But she recalled a comment in an interview with photographer David Hurn she once read.

“His words of advice were to start at the top (instead of working your way up) and hold on tight. That runs through my head a lot when opportunities come my way.”

To the jungles of Africa

Prescott’s internship with National Geographic has been more than a year in the making.

She met Nichols at a photography workshop in Santa Fe, N.M. in the spring of 2001. Nichols was Prescott’s teacher, and they continued to communicate by e-mail afterwards.

When Nichols mentioned he was going to Ethiopia to photograph baboons, Prescott asked if there was any way she could assist him. Thus began a dialogue about a possible internship.

“There is an element of risk I am willing to take – even if it is stepping out and asking somebody for something.”

The Ethiopia trip didn’t work out, nor did Nichols’ next trip, to the Congo, but Prescott was patient, and now she and Nichols are headed to Gabon.

Prescott and Nichols will be stationed in a clearing deep in the jungle with two French scientists and some support staff. Once there, the pair will begin documenting the forest elephant.

“They’re a species of their own,” she said of the elephants, which once were thought to be a subspecies of the African elephant.

As a photography intern, Prescott said, she doesn’t expect to take many pictures of her own.

“I’m taking my camera and a lot of film – I’m hoping to make a personal journal,” she said.

Most of the time, she will assist Nichols in his photography. They will set camera traps (the animal triggers the camera) and use a remote control, which is a new method.

“(Nichols) is always trying to be cutting edge,” Prescott said. “He’s always willing to experiment with his photography.”

That is only one of the characteristics Prescott admires about Nichols.

“He also likes to get up close and personal with wildlife,” she said. “He’s a risk taker, that’s for sure.”

It’s a risk she’s willing to share with Nichols on this trip.

Perhaps surprisingly, Prescott said she isn’t nervous about going to the jungle and being close to wildlife.

“Being within nature is definitely being more in my element,” Prescott said.

It’s the social aspect of the assignment that has the shy woman a little apprehensive.

“As far as being in Africa, being remote, being with animals, being isolated – I feel very comfortable in those kind of extreme situations. (Of course), this may be way beyond anything I’ve experienced.”

Prescott is scheduled to be in Africa until the end of December.

She said she hopes to come back with greater knowledge of photography and a clearer idea of her career path. She also hopes to have enough of her own photographs to publish a photo essay of the trip to share the experience with her Summit Daily following.


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