Photograph Courtesy Mark Thiessen
Tim Laman is a wildlife photographer and field biologist. He credits his childhood in Japan, where he spent a lot of time in the mountains and at the ocean, for his strong interest in exploring nature, both above and below water. According to his mother, his first publication was in second grade, when a poem he wrote in Japanese about his pet turtle won a competition and was published in the local newspaper. Since then, Laman's interests have led him to various remote corners of the world in pursuit of stories, photographs, and scientific data. He first went to the rain forests of Borneo in 1987, and since then the Asia-Pacific region, and especially the Indonesian archipelago, have been a special focus of both his scientific research and photography.
Doing pioneering research in the rain forest of Borneo, Laman made more than 500 climbs of giant trees to explore the canopy and study strangler fig trees and their associated wildlife. This work led to his Ph.D. in biology from Harvard, as well as his first National Geographic magazine article in April 1997. Since then, he has pursued his passion for exploring wild places and documenting little known and endangered wildlife by becoming a regular contributor to National Geographic. He has also published more than a dozen scientific articles related to rain forest ecology and bird life and is a research associate in the ornithology department at Harvard University.
Laman's initial motivation for going to Borneo was adventure and a curiosity about rain forest life. This developed into a program of scientific research on rain forest ecology, but after several years of doing rain forest science, he became increasingly frustrated to be writing scientific papers about a habitat that was being rapidly destroyed. He decided photography and popular articles were a more effective means of communicating the need to protect rain forest habitat, and turned his energies in that direction. All of Laman's National Geographic articles to date have had a conservation message, and he is proud to be a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers.
There was a time when Laman almost went to grad school in marine biology, and he has maintained a fascination with coral reefs throughout his life. He has recently completed several underwater assignments for National Geographic and GEO magazines. His story on mangroves in the February 2007 National Geographic bridged the underwater and forest worlds to bring attention to the threats facing this critically important habitat.
Laman also continues to collaborate with his wife, Cheryl Knott, a professor at Boston University, on orangutan research and conservation projects in Borneo. The National Geographic Society has also been a major supporter of Knott's research and conservation work on orangutans, and Laman and Knott have produced two National Geographic magazine articles and a National Geographic children’s book on orangutans.
Laman's ongoing project on birds of paradise is his most ambitious to date. He is attempting comprehensive coverage of this extraordinary family of birds in the wild. They are the most spectacularly ornamented birds in the world, but inhabit rugged and remote regions of New Guinea, where they are an extreme challenge to locate and photograph in their dense rain forest homes. So far he has done 12 months of fieldwork in the New Guinea region over the past six years on this project. His feature story on birds of paradise in the July 2007 National Geographic was the first ever photographic treatment of its kind published in the magazine. Laman continues to pursue his groundbreaking coverage on this rich, though often frustrating subject with expeditions supported by the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Conservation International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
In 2009, Laman was honored with the North American Nature Photography Association’s annual Outstanding Nature Photographer Award. His photographs have also received recognition in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards (1998, 2001, 2002, 2005), Pictures of the Year (1998), Nature’s Best International Photographic Awards (2001, 2003, 2006, 2009), and Communication Arts (2003). His images have also appeared in National Geographic's 100 Best Photos and 100 Best Wildlife Photos special publications.