|Giant tortoises in pond, Alcedo Volcano, Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos provide a window on time. In a geologic sense, the islands are young, yet they appear ancient. The largest animals native to this archipelago are giant tortoises, which can live for more than a century. These are the creatures that provided Darwin with the flash of imagination that led to his theory of evolution. Immutable as the tortoises seem, they were utterly vulnerable to the buccaneers and whalers who took them by the thousands in the last two centuries. Today, the populations are ravaged on most islands, and of one race, only one old male remains--Lonesome George, heís called. But inside Volcan Alcedo, an earlier era lingers. What Ngorongoro is to Africa, Alcedo is to the Galapagos. This caldera is sealed off from the outside world by steep lava slopes that rise to 3,860 feet on the equator. It was not until 1965 that Miguel Castro, an Ecuadorian biologist, found a way down inside, and discovered a world where giant tortoises roamed in primordial abundance. This race of Geochelone elephantopus had presumably never seen humans. They hadnít seen many more when I entered the time capsule of the caldera. For one memorable week, I lived among the tortoises of Alcedo. Photography one morning was one of those precious experiences where I could be part of a scene rather than a distant observer. The tortoises were oblivious to me. There was no need for long lenses, tripods or other contraptions. Just one photographer, enraptured, with one camera and one 24-mm wide-angle lens. The soft morning mist, mingled with the sulphur steam of nearby fumaroles and dust from an erupting volcano to the west, kept subject and landscape in the same total range and made exposures straightforward. I added a strong warming filter to achieve the sepia tone. The rest is prehistory.