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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Arctic To The Max

Florian Schulz paints a diverse and lively picture of the landscape and its wildlife in a new book that’s accompanying an IMAX film

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A polar bear cub inspects its own reflection at the edge of an ice floe, Barents Sea, Norway.
"The work we did together was ideal because they needed to be out on the ice to follow this particular female and her cubs, and I needed to be out there, too," Schulz says, "so the filming and photography went hand in hand. It turned out to be an incredible opportunity for us both. I was able to observe and document how the bears behaved really closely, and that led to some really intimate shots of the female polar bear drifting on the ice, interacting with her cubs and escaping from males going after her to mate."

The polar bear portraits are captivating because Schulz is in such close range over an extended period of time. On one day, the polar bear mother walked within 20 feet of the boat, laid down with her cubs and went to sleep. Afterwards, when it was nursing time, the crew could hear the youngsters "humming" as their mother fed them. On another day, the family made a mad dash, leaping from one pack of ice to the next as they tried to get away from an approaching male. Since seals, the bears' primary food source, aren't as plentiful as they once were, bear cubs have become an option for hungry males. Schulz got it all on camera. The photographs are so full of emotion, it's nearly impossible for the viewer to come away not feeling connected to one of the most isolated parts of the world.

Challenges are everywhere when working in the Arctic, not the least of which is just getting to some of the locations. Schulz wasn't going to Churchill or any of the other popular spots, so he'd take a jet as far north as possible and transfer to a small prop plane. From there, he would jump between small native communities on planes with as few as 15 people on them. The planes were often the only transportation between these communities, which he'd use as a kind of base for prepping and planning travel routes to even more remote areas. Working with local guides was crucial. When traveling with guides, Schulz often got around on snowmobiles or dog sleds. To shoot from the air, he went out on a World War II Super Cub, a two-seater that allowed him to land and camp on riverbeds and the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

Huge colonies of little auk make nests in the steep, rocky cliffs of Svalbard's fjords, Norway.
With three duffel bags, a camera backpack and another smaller bag, it wasn't easy moving all of his equipment. But he needed a lot of gear because of the variety of images he was planning to take—aerial, underwater, wildlife and landscape. Schulz was determined to stay away from portraying the Arctic as just this empty, frozen tundra.

"That's why I did it over the seasons," he explains. "There are so many different aspects to explore. Getting up into the air gives a sense of scope, the expanse of the wilderness. What I love best is giving the viewer a true sense of place, and that's really hard to do."

The purpose of Schulz's photographs and MacGillivray's film is to remind us of what's at stake up there and around the world if the ice continues to melt at this rate. The thickness of the Arctic ice is nearly half of what it was in 1980, and the region is warming two times faster than the rest of the world.

"This is a tremendous place," says Schulz. "I really fell in love with it. There's so much life, so much diversity, so much to experience. I just hope that the images from the book and the film are able to transport people there and make them think and care about what's at risk."

As part of his Freedom to Roam project, Florian Schulz has dedicated years of his life to North America's most critical wildlife corridor, Yellowstone to Yukon. His first book Yellowstone to Yukon: Freedom to Roam received the Independent Book Publisher Award, Outstanding Books of the Year. See more of his work at www.visionsofthewild.com.


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