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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Life On The Ice

James Martin travels to the ends of the earth to photograph a vanishing resource

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Large glaciers flowing from the Vatnajökull ice cap in Iceland calve into the Jökulsárlón, or glacier lagoon, filling it with big icebergs that float around before melting. The Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Europe, and the Jökulsárlón is the best known and the largest of a number of glacial lakes in Iceland. This area is widely regarded as the most picturesque in southern Iceland.
Climate change can be a tough topic to tackle photographically because its impact is sometimes lost in translation. An image of what the Ilulissat Glacier looked like in 1910, or even in 2000, compared to now is striking, but what that difference means to the general public isn’t so clear, and that’s partly because views about global warming are often at odds. While there’s basic scientific agreement that the earth’s climate has grown warmer mainly because of greenhouse gas emissions, there’s robust debate over what degree is attributable to human activity. Recent fluctuations in temperature only have intensified the dispute. Before the December United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, there were a few polls indicating a decline in the number of Americans who believe there’s solid evidence that temperatures are rising and that it’s a serious problem.

Glaciers are considered among the most sensitive indicators of climate change, advancing when the climate cools and retreating when it warms. The amount of land-based snow and ice figures into the earth’s climate in many ways, including determining sea levels, regulating global temperatures and establishing human drinking water supplies. Many glaciers are now discussed with projected expiration dates on the ice that remains, but answers about what happens afterward aren’t as straightforward.

Celebrating both beauty and science, Martin is ultimately hoping that Planet Ice helps to increase public awareness and push the debate toward acting responsibly. He’d like to write a children’s version of the book and create a website where kids can ask questions, download pictures and read about the world’s wild places. Ideally, the website could become a resource for science teachers. There are also plans for a traveling exhibit.

“I always intended to disburse the images as widely as I could because a book alone is a lonely thing these days,” he says. “I knew I wasn’t going to change the world, but I hoped to nudge it in the right direction.”

Martin’s Gear

Some of Martin’s earlier medium-format film work is sprinkled throughout the book, but he mostly shot using Canon EOS-1Ds or 1Ds Mark II cameras between January 2006 and August 2008. His lenses ranged from a 15mm fisheye to a 500mm telephoto with a 1.4 extender. Lately, he’s grown fond of the quality he gets from digital medium-format cameras, working mostly with the Phase One P45+ system.

James Martin is the author of
Digital Photography Outdoors (Mountaineers Books) and the upcoming Digital Medium Format Photography. You can find more of his photography and writing at www.jamesbmartin.com and www.digitalmediumformat.com.


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