Professor of management information systems Mark Frolick picked up his first camera at age 13—an old Nikon FTN that he bought for $300 from the high school newspaper photographer who lived down the road.
He started shooting sports. He liked fast subjects.
Years went by, and Frolick continued pursuing his hobby, adding sunsets, beaches and his pet cats to his list of photographic interests. Then, last fall, another subject caught his eye.
He was attending a fundraiser for the Cincinnati Zoo, and he saw a cheetah running. His eyes widened. “I’ve always loved cheetahs,” he says.
When he learned the Zoo lets the cats loose to run in a field on Saturdays, his imagination took off in a sprint as well.
“It’s like poetry in motion,” he says. “It’s what these animals were born to do.”
Frolick showed up with his camera the next Saturday. And the next. And the one after that. He got to know each of the Zoo’s five cheetahs.
“They have distinct personalities,” he says. “Like housecats.”
There’s Sara, the 12-year-old female, who holds the record as the world’s fastest mammal. (Four years ago, she ran 100 meters in 6.13 seconds.) There’s also Nia, Chance, Bravo and Tommy T.
The Cincinnati Zoo is one of only a handful of zoos that run their cheetahs. Keepers release the cats into a field, where they chase a mechanized lure—“basically a dog toy,” says Frolick. Cheetahs aren’t the easiest subjects to photograph. They run as fast as 70 miles per hour, and they turn on a dime.
“Imagine a running back, only running three times as fast,” Frolick says. “You shoot a lot and hope you get something. You spray and pray.”
In hundreds of frames, Frolick might have a few keepers. The rest? “I call them my cheetah butt shots,” he says. “Because that’s all you get. They’re gone.”
Frolick has compiled his favorite cheetah photos into an unpublished book. He’s already adding to that collection. The Cincinnati Zoo has the best cheetah program in the country, he says. He’ll be back documenting these quick cats “any time they’ll let me.”