Lawton residents Kenny Seals and Dave McGowen have traveled the world together, photographing some of the world’s most elusive and ferocious wildlife. This fall, the pair is sharing their stunning shots with southwest Oklahoma.
Seals and McGowen will display about 30 photographs each through Nov. 14 at the Chisholm Trail Arts Council (CTAC) Art Gallery, 810 W. Walnut, in Duncan.
Seals has been photographing wildlife for a quarter of a century, but about 14 years ago, it took on a new significance when he officially laid down his hunting rifle, deciding to stick with shooting animals with his camera.
“I’ll probably never hunt again,” he said. “I still go out with friends sometimes, but I just take pictures, I don’t carry a gun.”
Two years later, he met McGowen through the Wichita Wildlight Photographic Society, which meets the second Thursday of each month at Boulevard Congregational Church. McGowen was new to photography, and said Seals helped him learn and grow in his new craft.
“He’s very experienced,” McGowen said of Seals. “He helped me a lot, especially with technique.”
Soon, the pair started photographing wildlife throughout the U.S. together, taking two or three trips a year. They’ve shot in New Mexico’s Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, the High Island area in Texas, and of course, throughout Oklahoma, from the Hackberry Flats to Grand Lake.
Their favorite place to take photos of wild animals?
“Alaska, hands down,” McGowen said.
“It’s the best place in North America to photograph,” Seals added.
Each year, the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge hosts a lottery for photographers to shoot in its bounds, where wild brown bears roam freely.
“They only allow 180 people to go each year,” Seals said. “If you win, you get a four-day pass, and it’s just 10 people at a time.”
According to Seals, photographing wildlife at McNeil River is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — which he and McGowan have now experienced three times.
“You’re lucky to ever get to go there, even one time,” Seals said.
Both men’s names were drawn in the lottery in 2015, 2017 and most recently, this year. They traveled north towards their Promised Land in July and came home with stunning shots of brown bears snatching salmon from the river and an abundance of stories and memories.
“Those bears are just wanting to fish at that time of year,” Seals said. “It’s not uncommon for bears to bring a fish six feet from you and eat it right there. They don’t pay you any mind.”
Back in southwest Oklahoma, when Seals and McGowen get the photography itch, they turn to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
“It’s certainly nice to have the refuge close by,” McGowen said. “Not everything can be a big expedition to Alaska. And there’s an abundance of wildlife in the refuge.”
Despite having photographed side-by-side for years, this is the first time Seals and McGowen will display their work together, and according to the CTAC Executive Director Darcy Reeves, the nature of the display is a first for the gallery.
“We’ve not had wildlife images before,” she said. “This gives you an up-close, personal look at truly wild animals in their natural habitats.”
For McGowen, “it’s an honor” to show his work so close to home.
“A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to get out and see this wildlife,” he said, “so I see that as an education opportunity. ... The more people we have that are conservation minded the better, so we can preserve our public lands.”
For more information, go to chisholmtrailarts.com/art_gallery.