Ylla Camilla Koffler

Ylla, pronounced “eela,” was generally considered during the mid-twentieth century the greatest animal photographer in the world. She was born in Vienna of a Romanian father and a Yugoslav mother. While studying sculpture in Paris she took up general photography to earn a living. After she came to the U.S. she was much in demand by persons who wanted their pets photographed. Anything from dogs and cats to a squirrel or a baby lion could be found under the lights in her Manhattan studio. She later gave this up to concentrate on wild animals. 

Ylla confronted the large animals of Africa in the same manner that she had dealt with tame animals and those in zoos. She took chances only when she had to. If she could work under conditions where both she and the animal were relaxed, she preferred it. But this was not always possible. On one occasion she was sitting in the back of a truck which was being chased by a huge rhinoceros. Later, she was apologetic because she flinched each time that the beast would ram the back of the truck with his horn. In conversation with her friends, Ylla loved to tell, not of the narrow escapes or the long hours of patient work, but of all the ridiculous and funny things that she had seen animals and people do. Once, when she was urged to put all these things into a book, she grinned and said: “I’ll save that for my old age when I cannot get around any more with a camera.”

The success of her African trip led her on to India. There the reputation she had won brought her a welcome from officialdom wherever she went. It was in 1955 while riding in a speeding jeep photographing a race between bullock-drawn carts in India that she suffered the accident which resulted in her death. In an introduction to one of her twelve books, Ylla wrote: “My pictures preach no message and present no scheme of world betterment…I try for simpler goals.”

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