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Caught in the Act of Being Herself

THE eye searches and finds the sea lion almost - but not quite - at once. She's so like the rocks she leans on in form and color. And the rocks, shaped by waves, are streamlined just as she is. But the sea lion's sleek form, the velvety texture of her fur, and above all, her living presence, beckon the viewer's gaze. Craning her neck, she suns herself or scratches her head on a rock. She has been caught in the act of being herself.

Photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman found the sea lion while on assignment in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Darwin landed on these islands and found an incredible variety of species - some found nowhere else in the world. Sea lions abound, and never having had cause to fear human beings, they lie placidly on the beaches where people may capture them only on film.

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Waiting for a small boat to take her to her ship, Freeman loved the composition of rocks and animal together. Amused and delighted, Freeman watched as the sea lions cavorted - playing, eating, sleeping, and savoring the sunshine.

"They make me smile," she says. "They enjoy life so much." She worries about the fate of the animals on this and other small islands - not from aggressive hunting, but from the more passive dangers caused by the arrival of too many people without proper facilities and resources.

The photographer's eye discovers the remarkable in the ordinary - how the forms of nature resonate with each other, how life calls to life, speaking to the viewer urgently and directly. The photographer's eye is not objective; rather, she is embracingly humane and fair. Freeman's love of animals and her concern for the environment help determine her choice of subject matter and composition. Her own sense of humor responds to the animal's antics.

As our eyes search out and find the sea lion among the rocks, we're reminded just how rich and varied the animal kingdom is.

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