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Edward R. Osterndorff: Outstanding Achievement in Bird Photography

March 12, 2020

Edward R. Osterndorff: Outstanding Achievement in Bird Photography

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Julie Larsen Maher Julie Larsen Maher

Before the Wildlife Conservation Society opened the Bronx Zoo in 1899, director William Hornaday thought that there would never be enough work for a full-time photographer. According to Gathering of Animals by William Bridges, the demand for photos quickly reached a crisis point by mid-1900.

Elwin R. Sanborn was recruited internally for the role of the Society’s first photographer in 1900. His assistant, Edward R. Osterndorff, was hired to take over still photography in 1928 and officially became the Society’s second photographer in 1934.

Osterndorff showed great skill in photographing birds and devoted much time to an intensive and continuous campaign of photographing five species of birds of paradise. In 1935-1936, he succeeded in capturing an image series of the birds both at rest and in display. Osterndorff was commended for his work. Few, if any other photos of birds of paradise in display (above, lesser bird of paradise) had ever been taken before this time.

Birds of the World, An Illustrated Natural History, published in 1938, showcased some of his photographs. Osterndorff’s career with the Society also involved filmmaking, transitioning from glass to film negatives, and early attempts at photo manipulation through retouching. Osterndorff was the Society’s staff photographer through August of 1940.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Wildlife Conservation Society is celebrating 125 years of saving wildlife and wild places in 2020. WCS was founded as the New York Zoological Society in 1895. Wild View will feature regular posts on the history of the Society’s photography and other events throughout the year.


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