About me

I am a biologist by heart and training. I was born in Germany, where I studied Applied Ecology, Zoology, and Botany, and then moved to the United States in 2002 to obtain my PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Columbia University in New York. I always had an artistic streak on the side that I tried to find an outlet for, and for the most part that outlet has been, and will likely always be, photography. 

I got into photography when I was about 10 years old, having just received a Praktika SLR camera for Christmas. For several years I could not get a sharp image with the thing for the life of me, so I frustratingly handed it over to my bigger sister who was a bit more capable at the time. Eventually I would get the hang of it and photography would become my primary hobby besides being out in nature. 

Over the last decades I had the great privilege to travel to many amazing places and conduct research in animal behavior and ecology. My first subjects were insects and birds, including  great skuas in the Shetland Islands, nutcrackers in the Swiss Alps, dragonflies in southern  France, European starlings in Germany, and so on... I also developed a keen interest in birdwatching, a hobby that keeps me far from being bored wherever I may find myself. I have seen about 2,000 species of birds throughout my life but I am no longer keeping track very closely. 

Once I moved to New York I began working with primatologists in Africa and started studying the complex social behavior of nonhuman primates. I also spent a couple of years analyzing data on pygmy hunter-gatherer societies in Central African rainforests and the human wildlife conflict surrounding bushmeat hunting around National Parks in Gabon. But my passion became increasingly the intricate social interactions of primates. Why did primate societies evolve the way they did? What are the consequences on individuals? How do social interactions affect the health of individuals in them? What do stress and stress hormones have to do with it? Those were the kinds of questions I studied in forest guenons in western Kenya and chacma baboons near Cape Town, South Africa. 

A few years before I would finally leave academia, I changed study subjects once again and moved to North Carolina to work with the Jane Goodall Research Institute on the longest-standing field study of chimpanzees, initiated by Jane Goodall in 1960 at Gombe National Park, Tanzania. That work lead me into the world of data science and programming that would eventually become my primary profession. Today, when not traveling and photographing wildlife, I direct a team of data scientists at the New York City government, helping to prepare the city for infectious disease outbreaks. I also continue teaching college students about animal behavior, biodiversity and statistics, something I have been passionate about since I was a student myself. 

For those interested to read more about the kind of work I did as a scientist and educator, feel free to check out my Google Scholars profile of published works here.

This may all sound rather long-winded but is really just a superficial summary. There was a lot more going on in my life along the way that shaped me into who I am today. Professionally as well as personally.

For example, I spent many years doing on-the-ground conservation work, trying hard to protect habitats and species of endangered plants and animals from being bulldozed and built over. Sadly, those efforts were mostly lost due to the prevailing power of economics and the little influence environmental laws had (and have) on what happens in our society. That was a difficult and depressing time but also very educational and eye-opening. Or the time, as a college student, when I disappeared into the rainforests of Costa Rica for many months (against the advise of pretty much everyone I knew) to study unknown dragonflies. I ended up writing a book about dragonfly identification, still one of the only ones of its kind for Central America. I also produced one of my first wildlife photo stories on two-toed sloths at the time, which was published in a German nature photography magazine.

There were too many adventures and experiences to name here, all with unique effects on my life. But some shaped me more than others. The time I almost died of malaria in rural Kenya without access to proper care was certainly one of those. Anyone who has gone through something similar will know what I mean, and likely have a different outlook on life.

There are lessons learnt from my past that I will share or draw from in my newsletters, workshops, or mentorships so I will stop going on about them here. This was supposed to be a brief intro, not a novel or autobiography. Oh well... 

Today, my passion is in moving people with photography in ways that only a photograph can do. Most people will never witness nature the same way I do, and without that direct experience it is hard to care much. But we do need everyone to care if we want to save our natural world. The pictures I create that I am most proud of are those that tell a story or create a strong emotional response. Sure, a perfect bird on a stick can be beautiful and portray the amazing diversity that exists, but I strive to move beyond that kind of photography and bring the viewer closer into the lives of the animals so they can connect with their personalities and emotions. And if there is one thing we have learned over the last decades then it's that animals are more similar to us than we ever thought. Selfish, ruthless, competitive, often violent, but also thoughtful, gentle, beautiful and socially competent. Animals are us! 

Thanks for stopping by and making it this far! If you enjoy my work please think about subscribing to my newsletter. I would look forward to connecting with you more and perhaps I will see and talk with you sometime soon!