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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

North Idaho photographer captures wildlife in its purest form

Nature has always captured Sheila Newenham’s heart.

For 10 years, she has captured nature in return through her camera lens, photographing wildlife in their natural state.

Newenham has been based in Bonner County for three years, and photos from her bear collection will be displayed at the Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber through Wednesday.

Since moving to the Inland Northwest, Newenham has found a home for her art through the community and nature.

“I love the art community that’s around here, from Sandpoint, to Coeur d’Alene, to Spokane, there’s just so much opportunity,” Newenham said. “I’ve really been embraced by the artists here.”

Newenham captures stunningly intimate photos of wildlife through a long lens from an average distance of 50 yards from her subject, she said.

From her extensive time being enriched in nature and wildlife, Newenham developed a deep understanding of animals’ behavior, helping her to stay safe when capturing her photos.

“The more that anyone spends time out in the wild, or like with any personality, they begin to learn behaviors and cues,” she said. “I can tell pretty well when an animal is relaxed and they don’t care that I’m there … So whether they’re hunting or grazing or sleeping, or whatever it is, if they can do that in my presence, then they’re comfortable with me.”

In case of dangerous situations, Newenham has an escape route planned to get away from the animals safely. But sometimes, sticky situations find her anyway.

“I’ve had some unnerving bull elk encounters,” she said. “I was in a safe spot, but clearly, the elk was agitated. One time I was on horseback and got between an elk and his harem. And then another time, I was in my car shooting from the road, and a bull elk was pushing his girls along a hillside, and I was photographing and he stopped and just glared at me.”

Despite unsettling experiences, Newenham said understanding wildlife is important and can help prevent injuries. For example, Newehman said bears swat at each other to get more personal space. If she got too close to a bear, it could swat and kill her, not out of malice, but out of miscommunication.

“A lot of our perceptions of the wild come from fairy tales and movies and things that aren’t real, she said. “While we have kind of an innate fear of predators, humans really aren’t on the menu for the animals that we encounter. And so, when people get hurt by wildlife, it’s usually due to some sort of misunderstanding.”

Newenham said she is honored to have her work displayed at the Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber.

“To help them have a little bit of perspective about the wildlife, and maybe be able to teach them something about what it’s like to live here, where there’s bears and there’s mountain lions, but we all live peacefully, is just such a great opportunity,” she said.