Yukon wildlife mounted on café walls

Peter Mather has shot dozens of sheep. He’s shot moose, terns, ravens, wolves and grizzlies — mums and cubs — without remorse.

Peter Mather has shot dozens of sheep.

He’s shot moose, terns, ravens, wolves and grizzlies — mums and cubs — without remorse.

His weapon of choice: a Nikon F100.

For Mather, a resident Yukoner, photographing nature comes naturally.

“A lot of it’s instinct; a lot of it’s being in the right place at the right time,” he said on Friday afternoon after setting up his first solo photography show at Zola’s Café Dore.

With images of enchanting northern lights and a pair of grizzlies feeding on fresh pink salmon, his images depict the more colourful side of Yukon’s wildlife.

He’s never had a run in with any of his more ferocious subjects, but it’s been close.

One day, while shooting caribou on the coastal plain, Mather was lying in hiding awaiting the herd’s arrival when he noticed something sneaking up behind him, breathing down the back of his neck.

He turned around and at first he could only see the animal’s eyes.

“I thought it was a caribou and I was mad at myself for not getting a shot,” said Mather.

It wasn’t until the animal lumbered off that Mather realized it was a grizzly.

“He was just curious to see what I was,” he added with a laugh.

The toughest animal to shoot is the raven, said Mather.

“It’s because they’re so smart. You can walk right by them if you don’t look at them, but as soon as you show an interest in them they’ll fly away.”

Mather spends a lot of time on the land to capture the perfect images.

And he has a story to go with each.

In the fall, Mather heads to Sheep Mountain to see the herds rutting.

“I spent a couple days watching the males chasing around the females,” he said.

“It’s still scary because they’re so powerful and they’re a bit angry at that time of year.”

In the winter, Mather jumps in his car and heads up the Dempster to chase the alpenglow.

“It’s some of the best light I’ve even seen,” says Mather, pointing to a photo depicting a cache of frost-covered trees bathed in a deep orange light.

“At some points on the Dempster the mountains are so low it’s like flatlands, and the sun never rises fully, so you can get really nice light on the trees and the land.”

Mather was in Alberta at school when he developed an interest in photography and conservation, after seeing Ken Madsen’s traveling slideshow of the northern wilderness.

“It inspired me to take a year off of school and travel in the wilderness areas of the Yukon doing canoe trips and such things.”

And he soon discovered a favourite spot in the Yukon’s Peel Watershed, where the Snake, Wind and Bonnet Plume Rivers run.

“Every year I plan to take my vacation somewhere else and leave the territory, but every year I end up on the Peel. I can’t help it, it’s so nice,” he said with a laugh.

A teacher by trade, Mather is now supervising the residence at FH Collins.

It’s a job that affords him plenty of time to rove around with his camera in hand.

“Because we’ve had such beautiful light for the past few weeks, every morning I’ve been out taking pictures of the wildlife and the scenery around Whitehorse.

“Everyone’s been complaining about the cold, but it’s been great — although you can’t stay out for more than an hour before you freeze.”

He also spent a year teaching in Old Crow where he collected images of the Porcupine caribou herd and local life in the community.

“They’re smoking fish and caribou and there’s one in everybody’s backyard in Old Crow,” said Mather of a photo depicting a pointy-nosed fish skewered on a spit — a traditional Gwich’in smokehouse.

“I just think they’re beautiful.”

In another image northern lights draw brilliant ribbons of red, green, yellow and white across a night sky.

The colour looks too vibrant to be real, but that is the point.

“That was probably the best Northern Lights display in a decade,” said Mather, who just happened to be in Eagle Plains at the right time to capture the colours on film.

“That was luck, that was just luck,” he said with a wide smile.

“It was pretty special.”

This is Mather’s first large solo show, but he’s hoping to parlay his talents into a photography business.

He shoots his images on slide film — it’s like a traditional negative except it gives a positive image.

It also affords more true-to-life colour.

Mather then sends the slides to a lab in Vancouver for printing.

The show runs until the end of the month in Zola’s Café Dore.