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IMAGES ©URI AND HELLE GOLMAN / weareprojectwild.

com
Love
What
You You Will
Protect
EVEN A NEAR-DEATH
EXPERIENCE COULDN’T
STOP THE GOLMANS’
CONSERVATION MISSION

BY ROBERT KIENER
©KIM ANDERSEN

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inally they can relax. For several an outdoor market in Libreville, the nation’s
weeks, Danish husband-and- capital, that they’ve visited during previous
wife photographers Uri and Helle Golman photo assignments.
have been working tirelessly to track It’s a typical 80-degree, muggy December
down and photograph forest elephants day, and the midday sun is beating down on
on the coast of Gabon. This Decem- the couple as they leisurely explore the color-
ber 2017 trip to the small Central ful art market jam-packed with masks, stat-
African coastal nation is the next ues, exotic pearls, and native costumes. In-
to last—the 25th—in their ambitious five- trigued by the numerous items on sale, they
year project crisscrossing the world to jostle against other shoppers who crowd the
search for and photograph endangered busy venue. Uri is examining an intricately
species in their natural habitats. carved African mask when out of the corner
They’re thrilled because they have the of his eye he notices a man walking toward him.
photos they came to get, and there’s only Without warning, the man rushes forward,
one more journey—to Australia—before their pulls out a chef’s knife, and begins attacking
project, called “Wild,” will wrap. Then they Uri. The first thrust pierces Uri’s stomach,
can publish their long-anticipated book of and the assailant twists it so it cuts into his
endangered animal portraits. Due to fly back liver. Uri screams as blood flows from his
to Denmark in a day, they want to explore wounds and he tries to fight off the unpro-

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voked attack. He is stabbed again and again— an artificial coma, and for days he hovered
in the heart and then in the neck. between life and death.
Despite his wounds, Uri, a former member Nine days later the couple was flown by air
of the Israeli Defense Forces and a martial ambulance to an intensive care hospital unit
artist, fights back and flips the man off his in Denmark. There Uri remained in a coma
legs. They tumble to the ground as shocked until early January, when he opened his eyes
onlookers stare in disbelief. Uri tries to knock only to realize he was completely paralyzed.
the knife out of his attacker’s hand, but the He could not speak, move, or breathe on his
man keeps stabbing wildly. Helle rushes over own. Helle says the doctors took her aside.
and pounces on the man, digging her fingers “‘We are so sorry,’” they told her. “‘He will
into his eyes. She’s stabbed severely in the likely remain paralyzed for the rest of his life.’”
right hand, and her swift action helps the But Helle knew Uri was a fighter. She had
couple disarm the attacker. been with him on photo expeditions in many
Helle helps her husband to his feet and they dangerous places, from the extremes of the
dash to a friend’s waiting car that speeds them Arctic to the jungles of Papua New Guinea,
to the local hospital. On the way, Helle tears where he was trapped in a tribal war, to South
off her shirt and uses it to try to stanch Uri’s Africa, where he was charged by a massive
bleeding. He’s been stabbed nearly 10 times elephant. She had seen firsthand the courage
and is bleeding profusely. As the car speeds he displayed while photographing everything
away, she presses her shirt into his wounds from wild lions to leopards to crocodiles. On
and tells him, “I love you. You must not die.” his globe-trotting photo expeditions he’d
His eyes half shut, he whispers, “I love you, caught and recovered from cerebral malaria,
too. I’m not dying.” blackwater fever, dengue fever, and more.
She also knew how much their “Wild” project
A FIGHTER meant to him. They’d spent years amassing
The doctors at the local hospital did their best photographs of endangered animals and were
to close Uri’s and Helle’s stab wounds, then so close to putting their book together. Al-
they were transferred to a nearby military though she understood what the doctors were
hospital for further treatment. Uri’s condi- telling her, she felt Uri could beat the odds.
tion was life threatening; he lost more than As she stood at his bedside in Rigshospitalet’s
nine pints of blood. Doctors placed him in intensive care unit near Copenhagen, she

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thought of the motto they’d formulated to from his previous marriage and Helle were up and help him move his legs. Then just two. to a wheelchair, he continues to exercise daily
describe their environmental photography standing near his bedside, he looked at them Finally, one. Helle was a constant presence, and hopes to one day walk freely. “It is going
mission and hoped it would help him fight and said each of their names out loud, slowly encouraging him, willing him to recover. He to be years before I am back as I was,” he
back: “What you love, you will protect.” and clearly. Smiling at them he thought, “You took his first proud steps alone, albeit just a admits with a wide grin as Helle looks on ap-
Uri remained paralyzed. Then two weeks all are giving me the energy to fight, to come few, nearly a year after he was attacked. provingly at their country cabin in northern
after Uri woke from the coma, the feeling in back from the dead.” Uri, the fighter, was back. Denmark. He admits, “Recovery and rehabil-
his right leg returned, followed by feeling in Eventually Uri was well enough to be sent to a RENEWED PURPOSE itation from an attack like mine is a lifelong
his right arm and then his left leg. The doctors rehabilitation center, where therapists helped Today, some three and half years after he was process.” He’s not able to hold and operate a
were amazed. Bit by bit, he regained the abil- him re-learn to stand and then walk. In the attacked, Uri describes himself as a work in heavy camera and lens.
ity to speak. One day, when his two daughters beginning it took three therapists to hold him progress. Although he is still mostly confined Both Uri and Helle are quick to explain that

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their injuries and recoveries have made them and restoring (“rewilding” is how the couple where I looked, as far as I could see,” he re- more than short distances and can’t hold a
stronger. “We have been on so many wild photo- term it) the world’s quickly vanishing wildlife members, “the rain forest had been devastat- camera, the onetime National Geographic con-
graphic expeditions during our time togeth- and habitat. Why take on such a monumental ed and was replaced by oil palm plantations. tributor has not lost the desire to photograph
er, but this has been, by far, the wildest one,” task? “I am 46 years old,” says Uri. “In just my It broke my heart.” wildlife. Recently a friend drove him to the coast
says Helle. “And it has given us strength.” lifetime we have destroyed 50 percent of the After blinking back a tear, Uri explains, of Denmark to see what they might capture.
Uri quickly adds, “I don’t think of myself world’s trees and 60 percent of all wildlife. “There’s another reason we have started Their friend, Lothar Friis, set up Uri’s camera
as a victim. When you’ve survived something Time is running out.” Adds Helle, “We know Wild. After what happened to us, we both with a 600mm lens on a tripod. Uri sat nearby
like this, there is no time to be depressed. You that we need to make people love nature to realize we have even stronger voices for na- in his wheelchair. As a gentle wind blew in
have to go on living and loving.” help save the world’s wildest places.” ture conversation. It seems like we were put from the coast, he spotted a flock of seagulls
While they’re no longer as mobile, they’re Uri pauses and tells the story of first visiting here to do this. You know, when I was on the in the distance. He has the use of one arm and
still productive. They recently published Kalimantan, Indonesia, in 1997 on an assign- operating table immediately after the attack, managed to squeeze off some shots of the sea-
their long-anticipated collection of endan- ment to photograph birds and butterflies. I was technically dead for a while.” He breaks gulls. One was a keeper. “It was exhilarating and
gered wildlife portraits, the 208-page book “I’d never seen such lush rain forests and into a wide grin and continues, “And I have so emotional,” remembers Uri. “For just a mo-
“Wild,” which they describe as “our love letter such a variety of wildlife before,” he recalls. discovered that when you tell people you ment I felt as if I could walk again, as if I were
to nature.” It has been highly praised. As the He went back in 2015 on another assignment have been dead for two minutes and are free. It was, simply put, a magic moment.” •
famous scientist and environmentalist Jane to photograph orangutans in the wild. The reincarnated, you really get their attention.”
Goodall has noted of their work, “You cannot small plane he was in reached cruising alti-
look at these images—really look—and not see tude, and he couldn’t believe the sight below. A GENTLE WIND
the animals as individuals with personalities Tears began to roll down his cheeks. “Every- Although Uri admits he is still is unable to walk Robert Kiener is a writer in Vermont.
and emotions …. We see image after image
taken and presented with love for the subject
and love for the natural world.”
Inspired by their keen desire to help stop
the loss of wildlife around the world, Uri and
Reprinted from April 2021 Professional Photographer magazine with permission.
Helle have also established the Wild Nature ©Professional Photographers of America • ppa.com/ppmag
Foundation, which focuses on conserving

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