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Inspired by Ellicottville

Beautiful winter scenes and majestic snowy owls: nature photography exhibit by Chris Cove

For those who enjoy an invigorating day on the ski slopes, a quiet walk in the woods, or the simple beauty of a winter landscape, Ellicottville’s Gallery 14731 located at 5 East Washington Street has a wonderful treat in store. On the evening of Thursday, December 29 from 5-7pm, Gallery 14731 will be hosting the opening of “Winter in EVL,” Chris Cove’s nature photography exhibit. Cove, an avid skier who lives in Pittsford, New York most of the year, is proud to call Ellicottville home too, as he and his family have owned a home here for the past ten years. The exhibit, which is part winter-themed scenes and part snowy owl photographs, is inspired by Cove’s love of winter and the Ellicottville area, and is sure to inspire visitors looking to enjoy the great outdoors “indoors,” for a change!

Cove has visited the area his whole life; he and his family always enjoy hitting the slopes, especially at HoliMont where he is a member. “I always have my camera with me, whether I’m skiing or out hiking, because you never know when the light is going to be just right to capture the perfect scene,” explained Cove. With the exception of one photograph, every winter scene in Cove’s exhibit was taken during one of his visits to Ellicottville. In “HoliMont Covered,” Cove captures the essence of a crisp, winter day, as the contrast of the snow-covered trees with the brilliant blue sky in the background is every skier’s paradise. “For me, it’s always about finding the right light, like the sun coming over the ridge and illuminating this group of kids riding up the ski lift. It was just the perfect light,” said Cove of another photograph, “Winterblast.”

The other half of Cove’s exhibit expresses his favorite and perhaps most challenging subject to photograph: birds. Cove explained that bird photography involves three crucial steps: finding the bird, getting close enough to the bird, and taking a good shot. “The more you’re around birds, the more fascinating they are. But the more you know about birds, the better photographer you are,” he said. Part of Cove’s love of winter is his appreciation for the snowy owl, as these beautiful white owls are difficult to spot amidst a snowy landscape and it takes a considerable amount of time to find them in their natural habitat. Cove explained that all bird photographers have a “nemesis bird,” that bird that they just can’t ever get close to no matter how hard they try. For Cove, the snowy owl was his nemesis bird, until a trip to Canada changed everything.

In 2011, Cove and a friend, who is also a bird photographer, spent a week in northern Ontario tracking snowy owls and taking thousands of photographs. Cove learned that unlike other birds, owls like to hunt solo and stake out their territory, where they wait for moles to scurry across the field. Cove and his friend learned to look for open fields where snowy owls would likely be stalking their prey. However, knowing where to look for snowy owls isn’t enough. “Owls are very sensitive to human presence,” explained Cove, “and you have to be well hidden. Photo blinds are good, but it’s even better to catch the birds while they’re distracted, like while they’re hunting or nesting.” Some owls grow accustomed to the regular activity of the farmers whose fields they’ve “claimed,” and aren’t so easily spooked by humans. Cove explained that regularly visiting the nest is another way to get close to these beautiful birds as they eventually realize the human is not a threat as they fly back and forth from the nest. “It’s not enough to be 100 feet away from these owls,” said Cove. “Ideally, you need to be twenty to thirty feet away to get a really good shot.” 

Since that first visit in 2011, Cove has made a few more trips to Canada and has found that it becomes easier and easier to find these magnificent birds, as evidenced by Cove’s stunning work. “The Bank,” “The Grab,” and “Touchdown” portray the snowy owl in flight, swooping down on its prey before disappearing against the snowy sky. Cove has exhibited his snowy owl photography in other shows, and is excited to be sharing his works in Ellicottville for the first time this winter!

Cove, who is a cardiologist by trade, has had a passion for photography since he was a child. “For me, it was black and white prints that got me started with photography. I was totally fascinated by them even at a young age,” explained Cove. “My grandfather was an avid photographer and took tons of slides that we went over to his house to look at. I was always so curious to watch his excitement about them.” Cove began taking his own photographs and developed the film in his dark room, a process that he remembers fondly, especially in today’s digital world. “Digital technology really changed things,” said Cove. “But in the world of digital, the print is the end point. It’s one thing to look at a photo on a computer screen, but another thing entirely to see the print in person.” 

Indeed, Cove is particularly intrigued by the material aspect of photography, as he does all his own printing in his basement. He is very specific about his process and materials; for Cove, the physical quality of his photography is every bit as important as the images he captures. Both are critical to the art of photography, something that can’t be conveyed on a computer screen alone. 

Visitors are invited to see Cove’s works for themselves.  His 24 photos are on display now through the whole month of January at Gallery 14731.  They can be purchased at the gallery and also through his website at Gallery 14731 is open from 11am-5pm Tuesday through Saturday, and noon-4pm on Sundays.