Both the Getty Center and the Getty Villa are nestled in the Santa Monica foothills, which are home to large populations of wildlife, including deer. Bucks, does, and fawns are frequent visitors to both sites. Continuing her week on Getty Voices, photographer Tahnee Cracchiola shares her eye-to-eye encounter with a young buck at the Villa.

Young buck with antlers at the Getty Villa - in the grass / Tahnee Cracchiola

I’ve photographed objects of various materials of every size and shape—from enormous sculptures of marble and bronze to tiny, intricate carved gems. Wildlife became a focus for me as part of my project to create the photos for the book Gardens and Plants of the Getty Villa. The book’s author, garden historian Patrick Bowe, asked me to photograph the gardens in a variety of weather and lighting conditions throughout the course of the year, and made a special request to capture the creatures that make the gardens their home.

One crisp November morning while I was working on this project, I drove into the Villa and there he was: this majestic young buck. He jumped in front of my car and trotted up the hill. I parked and followed him a bit against my will; but Patrick had asked, so I persevered.

There I was, in my canvas shoes with no tread on a muddy bank, following this young buck. He was wary of me—I could see he was injured on the backside, but he was calm, his eyes curious of my presence. We exchanged glances for some time and then he continued on his travels up the hill. Realizing I had forgotten to actually photograph him, I awkwardly followed, very aware that I could break a limb or the camera. It was a glorious experience, even though I fell down the hill twice!

Young buck with antlers at the Getty Villa - in grass, eye contact / Tahnee Cracchiola

An acute awareness came over me when this young buck looked back at me. As with the lizard who lived in a sculpture I was photographing, I was intruding on his territory and needed to be respectful of my place within this encounter. Once I was purely aware of this, a feeling came over me as if a warm towel (freshly out of the dryer) had been wrapped around my body. I spoke to him quietly: “I’m not here to hurt you, my friend. I just want to take your picture to share with the world how beautiful you are.” His ears spun around as I spoke, and he blinked back at me as if to let me know he understood my words.

Young buck with antlers at the Getty Villa - rear view / Tahnee Cracchiola

Young buck with antlers at the Getty Villa - rear view, eye contact / Tahnee Cracchiola

When he settled down into the grass, I took his lead and knelt down to use my body as a human tripod. I slipped in the mud as I put my knee down, almost toppling backwards. His nose flared wildy—instinctually reassessing my intentions with his fear radar. They say animals can sense fear, right? Remembering this, I made sure to temper my excitement and anxiety by taking slow, deep breaths to calm the intensity of my increasingly beating heart. It was not so much because I was face-to-face with this powerful and majestic animal, but more of my fear of falling down the hill again!

He has such a dignified presence, like a sculpture. We didn’t have room for these images in the final book, but I’m glad I scrambled up that hill, and grateful that he let me have this enchanted moment with him.