Sebastian Copeland photographs the Arctic in his book, Arctica: The Vanishing North.

Photographing Beauty and Peril in the Arctic

Photographing Beauty and Peril in the Arctic

Behold
The Photo Blog
Feb. 2 2016 1:28 PM

Photographing Beauty and Peril in the Arctic

1
Otto Fjord, latitude N79º on Ellesmere Island, Canadian Arctic.

Copyright 2015 Arctica: The Vanishing North by Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues

Ever since he was a kid, Sebastian Copeland dreamed of the Arctic he read about in the books of writers like Jack London and in the accounts of explorers like Ernest Shackleton. 

As an adult, he’s become one of the best-traveled explorers of the region and combined his passion for photography, activism, and adventure into a unique career. His book, Arctica: The Vanishing North, which teNeues published in September, features 200 photographs depicting both the beauty of the region and the threats it faces from climate change.

Copeland honed his skills as a commercial photographer and filmmaker for years before he made his first trip to the Arctic in his mid-30s.

Advertisement

“The first time my feet got really cold and I could feel the sting on my face—it feels like a fist of needles; it hits you differently than a regular cold—all that was really invigorating and exciting. I was immediately taken,” he said. 

9
Ellesmere Island, Canadian Arctic.

Copyright 2015 Arctica: The Vanishing Northby Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues

7
Otto Fjord, Canadian Arctic.

Copyright 2015 Arctica: The Vanishing Northby Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues

8
The melting glacier at Otto Fjord, Ellesmere Island, in 2008. Most glaciers are receding in the Arctic, where temperatures are increasing at about two-and-a-half times the global average.

Copyright 2015 Arctica: The Vanishing Northby Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues

3
Northern Greenland.

Copyright 2015 Arctica: The Vanishing Northby Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues

In 2009, Copeland and Keith Heger trekked more than 400 miles in negative 50 degree temperatures on foot to the North Pole, commemorating the 100th anniversary of a similar journey made by Robert Peary, which is documented in the film, Into the Cold. In 2005, he helped lead Jake Gyllenhaal and Salma Hayek along with several politicians to the Arctic for an Earth Day celebration intended to raise awareness about climate change. 

“For the state of the ice in general, we’re headed into uncharted territory. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. 

Copeland has been photographing in the Arctic since his first visit. Initially, he shot on a medium-format film camera, a laborious machine to use in extreme conditions. In 2006, he switched to digital. His goal, he said, is to highlight the changes in the Arctic, which, though slow-moving, are some of the most obvious signs of warming’s impact. 

“There’s tons of science out there, and the science has proved to be esoteric and distant and abstract for many. There always needs to be a link form the heart to the mind to make people emotionally respond to something.” 

6
The high density of the cold water coupled by the high mass of its salt content makes for mirrorlike reflections. 2008, Ellesmere Island, Canadian Arctic.

Copyright 2015 Arctica: The Vanishing Northby Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues

4
Ellesmere Island, Canadian Arctic.

Copyright 2015 Arctica: The Vanishing Northby Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues

2
The frozen remains of this young bear point to starvation. The faster retreat of the sea ice, a bear’s favored spot for seal hunting, leads to longer fasting periods and the demise of more animals from starvation. Beechey Island, Canadian Arctic, 2008.

Copyright 2015 Arctica: The Vanishing Northby Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues

Jordan G. Teicher is the associate editor of Slates Behold blog. Follow him on Twitter.