The Art of Loving Animals

In Ylla, Pryor Dodge ’71 pays tribute to a seminal photographer.

The book cover of Ylla, the birth of modern Animal Photography, by Pryor Dodge depicting a woman looking at an elephant with its trunk raised.

Camilla “Ylla” Koffler got animals ready for their close-ups.

Nowhere are the words shoot and capture more benevolently applied to animal life than in the work of photographer Camilla “Ylla” Koffler. During her short but prolific career, she celebrated her subjects as individuals with souls and personalities rather than portraying them as objects to be ogled like hunters’ trophies. Author Pryor Dodge ’71 offers the iconic photographer an equally flattering and well-deserved spotlight in Ylla: The Birth of Modern Animal Photography.

Ylla (EE-lah) was born in 1911 to Hungarian parents in Vienna. She began her artistic career studying sculpture, but an aptitude for photography and a penchant for rescuing stray animals led to her capturing their very best angles. At the outset of her career, she primarily photographed house pets or exotic species in zoos, eschewing the gender norms of the day by getting up close and personal with animals typically only approached by male zoo handlers. Her fearlessness eventually took her to Africa, where she discovered a passion for photographing animals in the wild.

Ylla’s appetite for adventure brought her to India in 1955. While riding in a speeding jeep to photograph a bullock cart race, she fell from the vehicle and died from her injuries.

“Ylla’s pictures brought animals into the living rooms of America and Europe in such a way that they conveyed a feeling of sharing in wonderful adventures,” Sports Illustrated nature columnist John O’Reilly wrote upon her death.

Her work also lives on in several books, including two children’s books that became instant classics: The Sleepy Little Lion by Margaret Wise Brown (of Goodnight Moon fame) and The Two Little Bears.

Dodge is also the author of The Bicycle, a history of bicycles and cyclists that features his own extensive collection of antique bikes and cycling memorabilia.

Published in the Summer 2024 issue


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