Six years after first traveling to the Arctic Circle, nature photographer Mireille de la Lez and author Fredrik Granath have created a stunning visual record showing what the earth’s changing environment means in this part of the world. In 130 large-format, color photographs, Vanishing World: The Endangered Arctic (Abrams Books, 2007) is as much a celebration of the landscape and wildlife living in this dramatic setting as it is a firsthand account of global warming.
The book comes at a time when all eyes appear focused on the Arctic Circle. With temperatures there rising twice as much as compared to the rest of the world, glaciers are melting twice as fast as predicted just a decade ago. The result is dwindling sea ice, thawing permafrost and rising sea levels, all of which could have devastating effects on the rest of the world.
Inspired by the primitive beauty of such an extreme environment and the changes that threaten its survival, de la Lez and Granath set out to tell the story of life in the high Arctic. Since 2001, they have logged more than 1,000 days there in stretches lasting anywhere from six to 10 months. The pair worked mainly out of Spitsbergen, which is part of the Svalbard archipelago. Just 560 miles away from the North Pole, they worked by themselves, often traveling hundreds of miles away from the nearest settlement to live among the polar bears, arctic foxes and seals they were photographing.
"If you really want to get close, to get under the skin to anything that extreme in nature, it takes time to learn and get a feeling for where you are," de la Lez says. "To get the essence, to work the way we do with nature and wildlife, you can't hurry up."
The pair set out to capture the animals and landscape of a region rarely traveled to, but often an inspiration for nature photographers. Working in such an isolated environment required a great deal of planning that began several months before each trip from their home base in Stockholm. Once on location, with thousands of pounds of equipment in tow, the real work began. From a polar bear jumping into a seal’s breathing hole to a seal mother rising to the surface of the cold water to return to her waiting pup, the moments captured in Vanishing World were possible because of de la Lez and Granath’s willingness to wait, letting nature take its course.
The equipment they used was exhaustive. De la Lez shot with multiple Nikon D2X and F6 camera bodies, a variety of Nikon lenses ranging up to 600mm, plus teleconverters. Some of the images were also taken with a Mamiya 7 II medium-format camera. She used Gitzo aluminum and carbon-fiber tripods, often paired with a Wimberley gimbal head, in addition to portable hard drives, a stock of Fujichrome Velvia and Provia slide film, and countless other must-have items.