Wildlife photographer Johanna Turner meets and greets at Santa Monica Mountains Visitors Center

The Santa Monica Mountains Visitor Center hosted a Meet the Artist event for wildlife photographer Johanna Turner on Nov. 12.

The event was part of Turner’s ongoing exhibit and sale, Night Visions III. This exhibit is the third installment of Turner’s work displayed at the visitor center.

The exhibit running through Dec. 31 features photos of local wildlife caught through a process of camera trapping. 

Camera trapping is a process of photography where cameras are set up in a protective case, and are placed in locations where Turner believes a specific animal would visit.

The cameras are set to specific flash, exposure and focus settings and are triggered by a motion sensor. 

This process allows for Turner to safely capture high definition photos of animals on their natural roaming paths and in their natural habitats.

She said the main goal of her photography is to capture the beauty of the wildlife in Southern California.

“When you see how beautiful they are, you get a sense of ownership that makes you want to protect it,” Turner said.

Turner’s journey of becoming a wildlife photographer began when she moved to Los Angeles in 2000. Having grown up in rural upstate New York, she came with a desire to seek out the natural areas in Southern California.

She became an avid hiker, and was immediately intrigued by signs at the trailheads that warned about mountain lions in the area. She initially didn’t believe there could be lions in these areas and became fascinated with the fact that no one ever really saw these lions.

This led her to learning how to track animals and how to identify different types of animal tracks. She felt that if she could find a mountain lion paw print that would be the ultimate discovery.

She soon learned about camera trap photography, and began shooting her own photos in 2009. Her goal became to capture photos of these “almost mythically elusive” creatures.

Her passion has now turned into advocacy and conservation. Donated prints have helped raise funds for wildlife and environmental conservation groups like Arroyos and Foothills Conservancy, Transition Habitat Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund. 

She said she hopes her work helps build a connection between residents and local wildlife that helps promote conservation and protection of their ecosystems. She said her photos help build a greater understanding of local wildlife and their habits.

“These photos show wildlife in a calm, relaxed, natural state. If you think mountain lions are dangerous or scary, these images will change your mind.” Turner said.

Sophia Wong, store and events manager of the Western National Parks Association at the Santa Monica Recreational Area, said Turner’s work gives a glimpse into the true routines and lives of our local wildlife.

“She captures the beauty of our wildlife spectacularly,” Wong said, “If the wildlife knew we were around, they’d run off. They don’t want to be around us but she’s able to capture images we’ll never be able to see.”

She said her photos help to continue to build an appreciation for nature in Southern California.

“The more we learn about the natural world, the more connected we feel with that world. This connection makes us want to be good stewards and preserve this world.” Wong said, “She has the ability to draw a connection from us and the natural world which we would not be able to experience otherwise.” 

Turner said it is an honor for her work to be displayed at the visitor center.

“The Santa Monica Mountains are known to have a lot of great naturalists and conservationists, and to be included in that and be considered as part of that community is a great feeling.” Turner said.

Don Busby, an amateur photographer, visited the event and said he continues to be impressed by Turner’s collections of photos.

“Her work is beautiful. I do some camera trapping too so I know the time and effort that goes into trying to get the images that she has and she has some very special images here,” Busby said.

Her work is available for purchase and a portion of the proceeds will be used for supporting art and cultural programs at the visitor center.

The exhibit is running from Nov. 2 through Dec. 31. 

Turner will once again visit the visitor center on Saturday, Dec. 3, where she will discuss her photography process and what could be learned through her photography.

This presentation will be limited seating and reservations are required. Those interested in the presentation are urged to contact samo@wnpa.org or call (805) 370-2302.

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This photo is entitled “Solitaire”: “The San Gabriel Mountains dominant male mountain lion walks a rocky ridge above Altadena.” Captured at 1:46 AM. April 10, 2022. Contributed photo by photographer Johanna Turner.

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