Ann Johnson Prum ’84
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 74, No. 1, Fall 2002
For the last twelve years, Ann Johnson Prum has worked as a cinematographer for wildlife and science documentaries, shooting film and directing photography for PBS, National Geographic Explorer, Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, and TBS. Coneflower Films, the film and production company that grew out of Anne's award-winning cinematography, produces television programs that explore science, wildlife, and the environment. Since founding Coneflower in 1996, under its banner Ann has produced and directed programs for Home & Garden Television, Martha Stewart Television, The Learning Channel, PBS, and the celebrity-hosted, award-winning TBS series "Wildlife Adventures."
Ann has a special connection to Bowdoin, and not just because her father, Robert B. Johnson '55, and sister, Susan Johnson Currier '82, are graduates as well. "My time at Bowdoin had a major impact on the work I do, and headed me on the path that ultimately led me into wildlife film," Ann says. "I spent my sophomore summer on Kent Island working as a field assistant for a visiting scientist, which led the following summer to Peru, where I worked as a field assistant on a project in the rainforest of the Manu Park." While in Peru, Ann met the Jacques Cousteau film crew, "and that meeting inspired me to make a career in wildlife film."
Back at Bowdoin her senior year, Ann, an environmental studies and art history major, did an independent study project with Professor John McKee, and "made a really bad, but meaningful, film about the wildlife and wild lands at Mere Point," she laughs. "Bad in the sense that I was just learning and did everything wrong. But, Bowdoin is the kind of place that allows you to create your own dreams, and the community of Bowdoin-students and faculty-is there to support those.
"The learning environment and the physical environment of Bowdoin were both perfect settings to allow me to do a lot of wanderings in the Maine landscape and in the mental landscape of the dreams of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Creating a career where I could give something back to the environment was crucial to me."
Ann credits Professor Chuck Huntington as a great inspiration. "He and I spoke the same language when it came to preserving our fragile ecosystem," she says. "And, Larry Lutchmansingh. He challenged us to think on our own terms, challenged us to think, think, think. Of course, my training in art history helped me to understand classic framing and composition-skills I use every
day in my job."
But, in her roles as a producer and a cinematographer, Ann says she must rely on more than one set of skills. "As a cinematographer, I have to beautifully and factually capture the lives of wild animals, most of whom want nothing to do with me or my camera! That leads to some very creative and challenging filmmaking.
"As a producer, I am interacting with biologists who have devoted their lives to studying a very specific part of the planet. My job is to translate their life's work into a language that is meaningful to people sitting half a world away on their couches."