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Alumnus Bob Abraham gives wildlife photographs to College of Natural Resources and Environment

January 12, 2017

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Alumnus and renowned wildlife photographer Bob Abraham, center; his wife, Doris; and son Michael with one of the 32 photographs Bob Abraham donated to the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Bob Abraham, a Christiansburg native and nationally known photographer of birds and underwater animals for many decades, has given a collection of 32 of his framed photographs to Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Abraham studied wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech and earned a bachelor’s in forestry and wildlife in 1953. Although he ran a local print business for many years before retiring, his passion was photographing birds and scuba diving so he could also photograph sea animals.

“His stunning photography work ranks right up there with National Geographic and Audubon in quality,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “We are delighted to have received these exquisite wildlife images and have hung them in our Cheatham Hall conference room to kick off our college’s 25th anniversary celebration in 2017.”

As a young boy, Abraham discovered the beautiful cedar waxwing while attending an Audubon nature camp one summer in Massachusetts. That experience sent him off on a lifelong journey to capture the incredible beauty of birds on camera. “There is so much color on the waxwings,” Abraham declared. “Their beauty is just unbelievable.”

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The cedar waxwing is a plush, fawn-olive bird with a rakish black mask, citron tail tip, and brilliant red, bead-like drops on its wingtips. Photo by Bob Abraham.

Audubon nature camps in Maine and Connecticut helped guide Abraham to Virginia Tech. After earning his degree, he worked for the U.S. Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest, returning to Christiansburg with his young family to work at a newspaper before establishing a printing business.

His photos are exhibited throughout the New River Valley, including a permanent display at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center. His work is regularly featured in The Roanoke Times and in national birding and wildlife publications.

The avid bird photographer spent several years practicing underwater photography before again focusing on birds. Always an early-adopter with a flair for technology and adventure, it was an interest in scuba diving in the 1960s that led him to undersea wildlife photography. When he entered a Ritz photo contest, he came in fourth out of 40,000 and won a camera.

Underwater macrophotography in the Atlantic and Caribbean was his forte. “Of course, it’s better now than it was then,” he said. “We’d go at night, down about 15 or 20 feet. You had a Nikon camera, you’d shoot your 36 exposures, and then you’d have to go back to the surface. The cameras had rubber rings around them to make them waterproof. You’d pull everything apart to take out your roll of film, put in another roll, and go back down.”

Moving from film to digital in the early 2000s, Abraham bought a Hewlett Packard camera and was “delighted,” he recalled. “I was one of the first real users of digital photography, and it’s made what I do wonderful! I can take 1,000 pictures and throw away 900.” After a trip last year to Nags Head, North Carolina, he kept only 28 shots from the 600 pictures he took of seabirds.

“I’ve thought of people who are retired — who have any love at all of anything photographic — and it’s so easy now. Technology is a wonderful thing,” he added.

Since the day he discovered cedar waxwings, Bob Abraham has spent over half a century witnessing and documenting the natural world. Technology offers many wonderful things, he muses, but the future of the global environment concerns him.

“The coast of Virginia is pristine. It’s lined with islands off-limits to people, the result of conservation measures by The Nature Conservancy. Consequently, many bird species have rookeries there. We need more people to understand how to protect the things that really matter,” he mused.

“I believe we have become quite reckless in our quest for oil and natural gas. I would like to see more research into alternative energy sources, including solar, wind, and perhaps water.”

Abraham and his wife Doris have four children and seven grandchildren. His son Michael has followed in his father’s creative footsteps and has recently authored a new book, “Chasing the Powhatan Arrow,” a travelogue along the old passenger train route of the Norfolk and Western railroad. Michael writes about the region and with his wife runs a Blacksburg publishing company called Pocahontas Press.

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