Photographer finds muse in African wilderness

“Giraffes Walking at Sunset” by Jim Irwin

By Sarah Weinman

“It is my hope that I can produce an image that is not only beautiful…but one that can also lift the spirit,” says Jim Irwin, a veterinarian and photographer who visits Africa at least once a year.

His photographs of animals in Kenya, Botswana, and Tanzania are featured in his exhibition “Beauty of the Wild” at Clayton Fine Art Gallery. Irwin’s black-and-white and color images range from close-ups of lions to panoramic pictures of elephants on the move. In my opinion, the most evocative pictures depict animals against a backdrop of nature’s glory.

A beautiful example is “Giraffes Walking at Sunset.” Three of them move across a grassy plain with a few trees barely visible in the distance to the far right. A great orange sun just meets the horizon. Purple clouds cover most of the sun, darkening the land. The mood here is a little ominous. Is a storm beginning or ending?

The striking black-and-white print on brushed aluminum dibond, titled “Giraffe Group and Mt. Kilimanjaro,” presents more giraffes in a different but equally breathtaking setting. Nine of the animals move in three groups of three across a savannah. In the distance looms Mt. Kilimanjaro, its peak nearly obscured by clouds. The monochrome image evokes a sense of timelessness, and the lack of color sharpens the patterns in the giraffes’ hides and in the grasses.

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My favorite piece in the show is “Sunset in Amboseli.” Five elephants, three adults and two young, walk in profile on the horizon. The brilliant sky is aflame with every shade of orange, and the strong backlight renders the elephants the same dark gray as the ground they walk on. To use Irwin’s words, the sight of this family group in such a beautiful environment truly lifts the spirit.

“Beauty of the Wild” is on view at Clayton Fine Art Gallery through August 15.  The gallery is located at 21 N. Bemiston in downtown Clayton.  Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sunday noon – 5 p.m.; and Monday and Tuesday closed.  For more information, call 314-696-2244 or visit