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Larry K. Martin Says Africa Is In His Blood

He Sees Red was inspired by a charging rogue elephant captured by Larry K. Martin with a digital camera on an African safari.The digital image served as reference material for the painting.

By Al Harris
News Bureau

November 22, 2004 -- JSU alumnus Larry K. Martin was leading a group of artists on a photographic safari at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, on the border at Kenya and Tanzania, when he suddenly spotted an angry-looking rogue elephant.

Martin asked the guide driving the Land Rover to stop, and Martin began shooting a series of reference photos for a possible painting. “You are totally safe as long as you remain in the vehicle. For the most part, the animals are oblivious to you and totally ignore you. They regard a Land Rover and the people in it as non-human,” he said.

Watching the elephant through his camera lens, Martin thought aloud, “There’s something different about this one.”

“Oh yes, that is a rogue elephant — and he seems angry,” said the driver.

“And he was looking right at us,” Martin said. “We started shooting pictures like crazy.”

Seconds later the driver nudged Martin and pointed to two Maasai tribesmen walking toward them in the jeep ruts. “You don’t take pictures of the Maasai unless you arrange it with them,” Martin said. “But there they were, wearing their red blankets and holding their long sticks — they don’t carry spears. They were pretty far away, so I took a couple of shots and then went back to photographing the elephant.”

The rogue was getting angrier by the second. His ears went forward, he was posturing, and moving toward the Rover. The excited travelers with Martin caught every move with their cameras.

“The Maasai are coming,” said the driver. Were they angry about having a picture taken?

“I looked back and saw them hot-footing it toward us,” Martin recalled. “And then the elephant began a charge — he seemed to be coming right at us.”

Martin turned his camera back to the elephant, working furiously to capture the action. “It was happening so quickly that I wasn’t worried about us, but I was concerned about the Maasai, who just kept on running toward us. The elephant was getting closer, and I was shooting as fast as I could. The driver said we had to move. I continued shooting as the driver cranked up and pulled away just as the elephant ran by the rear end of the vehicle. The elephant did a fast swivel, and I caught it with the camera.

“We pulled away a bit and stopped. The elephant turned and stopped, seeming confused and still angry. We were still worrying about the men — they had disappeared. I asked the driver, ‘Where are the Maasai?’

“The driver — Africans have a different way of expressing themselves — said, ‘They are just here.’

“At first, I didn’t know what that meant. But when I looked around they were hanging onto the side of the Land Rover. That’s how they escaped.”

Martin said the bull elephant probably got angry after seeing the two red-robed dots of the Maasai walking in the distance. To the elephant, they ceased to be “people” when they became part of the vehicle.

Martin’s photographic images of the episode soon guided him in painting the encounter as an acrylic masterpiece titled He Sees Red. Martin, an internationally known wildlife artist, works with a younger generation of artists to help them in seeing and capturing reference images via professional-quality digital cameras. He has led artists and others on African safaris on four occasions that lasted up to 12 days.

Martin, who’s leading another safari in May and June 2005, said, “I can never go to Africa too many times. Africa has a remarkable connection to what’s going through my mind as an artist. You see things there that will blow your mind, and if you’re an artist, it is almost overkill. Africa is magical.”

To see Martin’s latest work inspired by Africa, as well as information about joining a safari led by Martin, go to Martin can be reached at


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