A SPRING LAKE PHOTOGRAPHER PUTS UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WILDLIFE EXPERIENCES ON EXHIBIT IN ASBURY PARK THIS JUNE BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN PORTRAIT PHOTO BY LYNN SAMBOL WILDLIFE PHOTOS
BY ERIC SAMBOL
Eric Sambol has always been fascinated by wildlife. Though he spent much of his pre adult life hiking through nature, chasing different species of butterflies, and venturing into occasionally risky situations for an up close glimpse at other fauna, the Spring Lake resident could never fully explain his passion for seeking out animals it was simply always there. But several years ago, when he booked a trip to Africa and bought a mid-level camera to capture the highlights of his travels, a part time fascination became something more.
“I’ve always spent a lot of time alone in nature, looking for animals and then using my artistic abilities to sketch what I had seen,” Sambol said. “But I never really took that side of my life seriously because I had to go out and earn a living. I spent 34 years working in the family construction business, but when I went on this trip to Africa, everything changed.”
Sambol found the perfect convergence of love for both art and wildlife during that journey, and quickly booked another.
“This led me to befriend a National Geographic photographer online and we met, sight unseen, at midnight in Fairbanks, Alaska,” recalled Sambol. “We went looking for polar bears on the northern coast of the Beaufort Sea and spent 12 hours in an old pickup truck waiting for a sleeping bear to come our way. We were frozen, sitting there in the snow, but when it awoke, we shot photos for about an hour or so. I had never felt so alive.”
That Alaskan journey also led Sambol to Katmai National Park, where the salmon were spawning. Five years after returning, he began the process of closing his business so that he could pursue photography full time. He also started forming associations with various wildlife conservation agencies to further his knowledge of species and geography.
“I became associated with the Raincoast Foundation, which helps protect the Great Barrier Rainforest in British Columbia,” he said. “I also joined the board of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, which is charged with protecting endangered species in the state like the Bald Eagle and the osprey. I also assist the Mercer Wildlife Center by doing some portraiture of the wildlife they rehab, and am affiliated with Wild Earth Allies.”
Last year, Sambol honeymooned in Rwanda with his wife, Lynn, and captured the area’s famed mountain gorilla in photos just one of many travels that will appear in “Engaging Behavior,” a month long gallery show (starting June 1) at Exhibit No. 9 in Asbury Park.
“I’ve gone on many adventures, and this exhibit encapsulates them all,” he said. “For me, there is nothing like the experience of sitting near these fascinating creatures. I hope viewers of the exhibit will have the same emotional response I do when they stare into the eyes of an 800 pound grizzly bear,” adding that, in less dangerous moments, he documents the daily activities of his adopted yellow Labrador Retriever mix, Sam, in an Instagram account titled Muttbeach.
“Lynn and I shoot pics of Sam every morning while we walk along the beach,” Sambol said. “That imagery speaks more about me than I could…my interests and passions are all right there in the lens as the sun is rising and the dogs are jumping in the sand.”
Many of those Muttbeach shots will be featured in the exhibit. “Three quarters of it is wildlife; the other quarter will have the feel of an Instagram page with images printed and framed from Mutt Beach,” Sambol said. “It’s really a beautiful mix.”
“I’ve captured the bighorn sheep in Yellowstone, leopards in Tanzania, and red foxes in Grand Teton National Park,” he explained. “And in August I’ll be traveling to Brazil to find jaguar. I cannot believe where this journey has taken me over the past several years, and cannot wait to see where else it will lead in the future.”
Instagram @eric_sambol_photography and @muttbeach