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.