Polar Obsession

Polar Obsession

See the polar regions as never before in a new book by renowned National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen, who dives underwater and travels across the ice to deliver unique, close-up documentation of wildlife in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Polar Obsession breaks new ground as Nicklen presents important insights into animal behavior, the fragile polar environment and climate change that threatens the ice and its inhabitants.

“The polar regions are disappearing quickly, and I want my photo essays to stand as a reminder of what is at stake. It is my mission to bring the rare, remote and threatened to caring people who can enjoy and help protect these lands and creatures,” he writes in his introduction.

Nicklen, who regards himself as an ambassador for polar life, grew up in a small Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic. From an early age he learned how to survive in the frozen terrain and developed a passion for the wildlife around him. Today his expeditions take him to the ends of the Earth in pursuit of rare, close-up photographs of polar species and their intriguing ways. Constantly honing his understanding of wildlife behavior in order to approach the animals in their most intimate natural settings, he uses photography to dispel myths, reveal rarely seen behaviors and intensify the world’s interest in polar wildlife.

Polar Obsession includes 150 of Nicklen’s most spectacular images from the polar reaches. From huge elephant seals, leopard seals, whales, walruses, narwhals and polar bears to penguins, albatrosses, petrels, arctic cod and tiny krill, Nicklen, an underwater photography specialist, captures the beauty of a wide variety of polar animals, large and small, and the icy paradise in which they live. Each scene is bathed in polar light, surreal and breathtakingly beautiful.

In essays introducing each chapter, Nicklen details life amid the ice fields, floes and frozen seas — at times braving temperatures as low as minus 55 F (minus 45 C) — as well as his passion for the Arctic and Antarctic and the stories behind his images.

Nicklen has risked his life many times in the 20 years he has been documenting the polar regions: He has crashed his ultralight airplane, fallen through the sea ice, been lost in blizzards, bitten by fur seals, attacked by a walrus and an 8,000-pound elephant seal, charged by a grizzly bear and sniffed through the thin fabric wall of a tent by a polar bear. One of the most nerve-wracking — and perhaps most mesmerizing — experiences was a days-long interaction with a massive, 1,000-pound female leopard seal, one of the most feared predators of the sea, with whom he swam in the Antarctic waters. After charging at him with a huge open mouth that almost engulfed his head and camera, she repeatedly tried to feed him penguins that she caught — all the while being photographed by Nicklen.

“If I really want people to care about polar species, my images have to be wild and raw,” he writes. “I want people to feel what it’s like to be in the water, swimming three feet from a polar bear. I want them to experience what it’s like to be offered a penguin as food by a leopard seal. Only then will they really care about that habitat and that species.”

In the “On Assignment” chapter, Nicklen describes the challenges of being a polar photographer, his considerations when photographing an animal for the first time, how long he has to wait for his shots and his funniest and most embarrassing experiences.

Also included in the book is a gear list detailing the enormous amount of equipment that accompanies Nicklen on his assignments, “likely more equipment than any other natural history photographer on the planet,” because Nicklen shoots above and below water. He usually travels with 14 to 20 cases and hockey duffel bags weighing between 60 pounds and 70 pounds each. “Getting to and from location with all the gear is often the worst and hardest part of the assignment,” he writes.

Both a remarkable photographic achievement and a powerful personal journey, Polar Obsession provides a vivid, timely portrait of two extraordinary, threatened ecosystems and draws attention to some of today’s most significant issues regarding climate and the environment.

Since 1994 award-winning photographer Paul Nicklen’s work has been published in magazines around the world, including 10 stories for National Geographic. He began his career as a wildlife biologist and took up photography 15 years ago with the desire to bridge the gap between scientific research and public knowledge on wildlife subjects and climate change. His unique background growing up in an Inuit community on Baffin Island along with his unique talent give him the confidence to photograph in the most inhospitable, remote and challenging places on Earth. Polar Obsession is Nicklen’s second book. “Seasons of the Arctic” was published in 2000. Nicklen lives in Whitehorse, Yukon.

Get Polar Obsession by Paul Nicklen.