Foggy Musings…

Jumping Polar Bear, Svalbard

No, I am not in Svalbard anymore, searching for polar bears. Far from it; I am sitting in a cafe in Port Angeles, Washington, waiting for the weather to clear. I was scheduled to fly over the Elwha River today - documenting the historic dam removal project there - but with pea soup fog all day, all flights are grounded (and pointless). Guess we'll try again tomorrow!  So, rather than showing a picture of an espresso machine or a portrait of my local barista, I am posting another one of my Polar Bear images from my recent trip to Svalbard.

A handsome bear, in a beautiful icy setting, caught in mid-air. I'm delighted with it...but also a little troubled. Why? Simply said, does the world need any more pretty pictures of polar bears? When polar bears are in very real danger of vanishing from the planet, do pictures like these do anything to help or do they somehow contribute to a sense of complacency? Here's the question :  Where are the pictures of bears starving to death?  Or swimming in a vast expanse of open water, far from land, left behind by the melting ice?  Those are the harsh realities of climate change in the far north, yet few of us have the resources, or the will, to document them.

Pictures that change minds, and affect policy, are typically the work of committed photo-journalists who work  hard to make them. Rather than just looking for icons, or visions of pristine nature, they look deeper into the story. Not all of us have that level of commitment, or the resources required to tell those stories, but it is important to be reminded that our cameras can make a real difference.

For me, being in the company of polar bears in the high arctic was a privilege - and a thrill. And I feel I owe it to the bears to be involved in the issues that affect their future. The camera is a powerful tool for doing just that.

OK, time for another latte.

6 Comments

    Hi Kevin,

    I believe images like this do make more of a difference to the majority of folks who look at them then do the pictures of the starving bears or bears 400 miles in to the water. The few staunch environmentalists/conservationists etc who do great work do respond to those images but there just don’t seem to be enough of them to where those “less than glamorous” images work and evoke a response. I think the everyday person who sees the image like you posted is more likely to respond to a few words/education about what is happening that accompany that nice photo. That is because most of them will simply turn away from a photojournalistic shot of that skinny bear. So, yes, I wish you and other superb photographers like yourself keep taking these photos because the one you posted today may very well be the first really good shot of a polar bear that someone sees and maybe, just maybe, they will dig deeper and try to help.

    Hey Steve,

    Yes, it is an endless and circular debate – should photographers shoot images of beauty to inspire and touch their audience, or shoot pictures of ugliness and damage to educate them about the “issues.” Obviously we need both. The pictures of wild animals and pristine landscapes show us what is at stake, while the “issue” shots help show the challenges. Which is more effective? Who knows? It is impossible to know what image will inspire someone to care, but as you say, a good picture, and a few carefully chosen words, are a good place to start.

    Kevin- I was on your trip to Svalbard. You did a wonderful job capturing the polar bear in motion. It is such a thrill to hang over a boat and look down on such a fantastic creature. We are all still fortunate to be able to experience the Arctic and the precious animals that dwell there.

    Hi MaryAnne, Great to hear from you! Yes, it was a thrill to see such a beautiful bear in such a wild, beautiful setting. I wish him/her the best of luck for the winter: many seals, and loads of ice. Wonderful sharing it with you.

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