In the Alaskan wilderness, Ejaz Khan came face-to-face with a bear. “I know that the bear was less than seven feet away because my camera doesn’t focus if you get below seven feet,” says Khan, a wildlife photographer. “And I heard my ranger pump the gun, and he says, ‘Get up slowly.’” Khan froze, and felt an electric thrill pass through him. He just stared at the bear; it started to walk toward him. When the bear was about three feet away, it turned and went the other way.
The energy that Khan felt during the encounter was similar to another time, in Canada, when he was hoping to photograph wolves and a pack of them surrounded his tent – also too close to actually get any pictures.. “I love the fear that this sort of animal can tear me apart, but it’s not, and it’s just letting me be, and that is, to me, amazing.” Khan says. The New York-based, Bombay bred father of two now takes about ten trips each year, photographing bald eagles in Alaska, bison in Yellowstone, and wild horses in France.
Not many people get the chance to turn their passions into a career, and Khan has done it more than once. His love of cameras started early, growing up on film sets in India, where his father was a movie director and producer, and his uncle and aunts were also filmmakers in some capacity. Later, his interest turned to fashion, of which his family did not approve, and he decamped to the U.S., where he spent a few years working odd jobs, driving a cab, working in a factory, “as all immigrants do.”Khan finally got a job in fashion, and eventually became a fashion photographer, shooting for magazines like Vogue, and also started his own women’s clothing brand, Tangerine NYC, which is sold in boutiques across the country. Marriage and children also came along.
Filmmaking, career crisis
Khan made a film, which landed at the Cannes Film Festival, where he was nominated for best director. He had a sort of career crisis – a breakdown, he calls it – wondering what to do with his life. His wife and a close friend insisted he take some time off, by himself, and booked him a flight to Alaska. His producer bought him a camera, a different type from those used for fashion. “I took off to Alaska. I was there for ten days, and when I was coming back, I called my wife, and I said, ‘I really don’t feel like coming back. I’m happy here, nature is great. Alaska is actually stunning, it’s amazing.’” He had been shooting those bears there.
Khan found the nature travel therapeutic, and eventually he sold an image, and then sold another, and over the past four years, it became a business.
Loving the cold
One recent adventure took Khan to Oppdal, Norway, to capture the musk ox. “I slept in a tent, it was minus-25 degrees. It was some experience, and I loved every minute of it.” One big difference between wildlife and fashion photography is the success rate. “It’s unlike the fashion world, where you have your assistant, and you have your lighting, and set up everything, and you work with the model and say, ‘Okay, this is what I’m looking for,’ and you work toward getting it. Here, you know, your model doesn’t listen to you.” Khan never did get photos of those Canadian wolves that got too close, so he’s heading to the North Pole this spring to shoot Arctic wolves, which are totally white. “It’s going to be minus-65 degrees,” he says.