Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Polar Obsession by Paul Nicklen

Bonnie and I recently attended a National Geographic Live presentation at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, this time to hear polar photographer Paul Nicklen. Nicklen is a frequent contributor to the magazine, having spent much of his life in the Arctic and Antarctic regions studying and photographing wildlife. He told some hair-raising stories that night, some of which are repeated in his beautiful photobook Polar Obsession.

What struck me first at the presentation and in his chapter introductions in Polar Obsession is Nicklen's love for the coldest places on earth. Then I noted how in his effort to take wildlife photographs that no one else takes, Nicklen risks his life. To capture extraordinary images, he has to move close to his subjects. (Telephoto shots are inferior in Nicklen's mind.) Of course, getting close to polar bears, leopard seals, elephant seals, and narwals can be dangerous, and not due just to their abilities to attack. Thin ice and near freezing water have caused Nicklen more trouble than the animals. The photographer says that all his risks are calculated and that by his efforts he can record behaviors that show these polar species are key species in their environments, doing what they need to survive. No predator should be vilified.

I recognize many of the incredible photos from the presentation in Polar Obsession. I especially like the polar bear leaping from one ice floe to another on page 16. Nicklen often speaks out about global warming destroying polar bears habitat. The photo on page 77 of two bears on a floating piece of glacier ice reinforces his message. There is a beautiful arctic fox on page 54, and I love the photo of the ivory gull on page 139. There are some delightful photos of penguins, and just as many showing penguins in the jaws on leopard seals.

Not many libraries have added Polar Obsession. More should. You may have to get it through interlibrary loan or buy your own. The last full article in National Geographic by Nicklen that I found is about Inuit hunters in the August 2007 issue. He also wrote the cover story on Arctic diving in the June 2007 issue. You can find a short interview and photo of Nicklen in a wet suit in the June 2013 issue, pages 44-45. His photo of a grizzly bear above and below water is in the February 2014 issue, page 138.

Nicklen, Paul. Polar Obsession. National Geographic, 209. 239p. ISBN 9781426205118.

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