Wildlife photographer has his own style: Exhibition to open Friday at The Crossing

CROSSLAKE--When Mark J. Harlow takes a photograph in the wilderness--it takes him a number of days or weeks--to get the image he wants. Patience is a virtue Harlow has and he uses it well in his photography when he captures the precise moment he ...

Wildlife Photographer Mark J. Harlow talks about his photography at the Kicks on Route 66 building in Crosslake. The East Gull Lake resident will display his work at the Crossing Arts Gallery with an opening reception from 5-7 Friday at the Franklin Arts Center. The exhinition will continue until March 12. (Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls)
Wildlife Photographer Mark J. Harlow talks about his photography at the Kicks on Route 66 building in Crosslake. The East Gull Lake resident will display his work at the Crossing Arts Gallery with an opening reception from 5-7 Friday at the Franklin Arts Center. The exhinition will continue until March 12. (Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls)

CROSSLAKE-When Mark J. Harlow takes a photograph in the wilderness-it takes him a number of days or weeks-to get the image he wants.

Patience is a virtue Harlow has and he uses it well in his photography when he captures the precise moment he wants in the wilderness where he has photographed grizzly bears, moose, eagles, horses, fox and more.

Harlow of East Gull Lake, who has kept a low profile, will have his first exhibition in the Brainerd lakes area. His exhibition will open Friday and run through March 25 at The Crossing Arts Gallery in Brainerd, with an artist reception from 5-7 p.m. Friday. The reception is free to Crossing members and $5 for non-members.

The exhibit will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 12.

Harlow said he has always been humble in his work and has not marketed himself well over the years. This is about to change.


Harlow opened his art gallery in May of 2015 in the Kicks on Route 66 building in Crosslake. The gallery is currently closed for the winter but will be open May 1 through Labor Day. People may not recognize Harlow's name, but may recognize his work through Shingabee's Studio in Walker, his first art studio which opened in 2006.

Harlow has been through a lot of ups and downs through his career. He had to retire from the printing business as a result of the housing crash and had to close his first studio in 2011 after he lost everything. Harlow rebooted his photography career in 2013-14 with the help of an area couple who believed in his work and gave him a loan to start again. Harlow's studio is in his home in East Gull Lake and his work is displayed at Kicks on Route 66 in Crosslake.

Harlow said the exhibition in Brainerd will be his first public display in eight years. Harlow said he is showing his work publicly now because he wants to put ability back into fine arts, such as showing the public the importance of producing original color photographs. He also is close to finishing his first coffee table book of his best work, slated to be published in the fall of 2017.

Harlow said some of the photographs in the book have a story to tell and some are life-threatening, such as with the grizzly bears, the wild mustangs and the bull moose.

"I've had some pretty bad encounters," Harlow said. "Some of those stories will be in there and some of my struggles of making it in today's photo world."

Harlow is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of American where he won the 2010 People's Choice award for a photograph for his Sidewinder Eagle," a photograph of an eagle flying with its wings in a vertical span. His photograph of a fox jumping in the snow also was featured in the association's magazine's cover in 2009.

"I was peer pressured into submitting my work in the OWAA contest," Harlow said. "I don't do photo contests or submit my work for things ... I don't know why but I struggle with marketing myself. I'm not arrogant, but my peers think I am. I try to stay humble. I do what I do not for the recognition, but because I love what I do. I am working on marketing myself better."

Harlow took the photograph of the fox near Leader and the eagle was shot near Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin. Most of his work is taken in Minnesota and other places include the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, Alaska and the Grand Canyon.


Harlow, who grew up in Mankato, went to school for a graphic communications degree in color separation. Harlow chose the career after meeting Les Kouba, a wildlife artist, who told him about the process of moving paintings into marketable prints. Harlow worked for three different companies from 1986 to 1993.

Harlow said he has always had a passion for taking photographs, specifically of nature. He began taking photographs in high school, but took a 17-18 year break. His photography interest really took off when he took a photograph of a pair of swans on Shingobee Bay on Leech Lake in 2004, his mother's favorite photograph. He said it was during the same time when his mother's health began to fail as she had cancer. Right before his mother died, she asked him to promise to do something with photography. Harlow said his mother wanted him to share his gift of his picture taking. At first, he did not commit to the promise, but when he went to visit his mother another time, he told her he would do something with photography. His mother passed away three days later.

Harlow procrastinated for a while, but in 2006 he opened his Shingabee Studio in Walker and began to spend all of his time on photography, taking pictures of wildlife and landscapes.

"I was raised an outdoorsman and I am fortunate to be able to read animals," Harlow said. "I spent so much time in the wilderness back then and in the past 10 years that it has made me a better photographer. I don't hunt anymore ... I got soft. The more time I spent with the animals the more I fell in love with it. I have not hunted since I picked up a camera. I have so much respect for nature and the wildlife, seeing their daily struggles to survive and for me to be put in a position to capture that fraction of a moment of time that engages someone visually and to have (the photograph) forever is the big reward."

Another reason Harlow has a great respect for nature and the beauty of land is he had an out-of-body experience during a vehicle crash in 1985, where he was ejected from his Datsun wagon that threw him on the freeway and then his wagon landed on top of him. Harlow said he should have died. He had severe burns, multiple fractures and seven bad discs in his neck and back.

Harlow said he was an atheist before the crash, but now he has faith and believes in God.

"Before I would argue with my Christian brother to no end," Harlow said. "But I saw it, I felt it (God). I can't explain it. After the crash and having the car land back on me, how can I be alive or why am I not paralyzed? It's a miracle.

"As I was lying there in the ambulance unconscious I could see this peripheral blue light, the spirits, I felt it for a long time and it shocked me to the core ... I am more in tune with the universe and have this peace of mind. I know there is a God out there."


Harlow said there are several things that set him apart from "a majority of the photographers out there." He said he will never photograph a contained animal and he will not stage a photograph with an animal. He said the animal or bird must be in its natural environment for him to photograph it and he will not use bait to lure an animal. This is why he said one photograph may take weeks or months to complete. For instance, he said the horizon must be perfect, such as when the sun sets on a lake in the different weather conditions; or the morning dew on a flower; or the environment an animal is in. He said he may have to go back to a location several times until he sees the perfect shot.

"I waited eight days before the conditions came together for my 'The Old Dock' photograph in Walker," Harlow said. "One day the wind was wrong or the fog was on the wrong side of the lake, but it finally all came together on the eighth day."

Another main difference in Harlow's work is he will only shoot one photograph of an image at a time compared to how others shoot several to hundreds of photographs of the same image. He also does not use a flash or any diffuser panels.

"I shoot efficiently and selectively," Harlow said. "I am very precise because I hate computer work. I do no photo stitching, or edit my photos."

Harlow said he is a self-taught photographer.

"I studied under no one," he said. "I don't look at other people's work. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid it. So in the photo/social world I'm a hermit. I don't participate in photo groups because I don't want to be influenced by anyone ... I wanted to establish my own photo style and look and it is something I work very hard at."

Harlow said he is a member of Nikon Prostaff, an elite manufacturing club. He said he was asked to be a member.

Harlow said it is hard for him to pick out his Top 10 work, but said his "Sidewinder Eagle" and the jumping fox in the snow are some of his best, as well as his "Guardian Eagle" photograph.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.

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