Photographing the polar bears of the High Arctic

A polar bear from the archipelago of Svarlbard. Image: Emma Rowan-Kelly

How do you photograph a polar bear? By travelling to the icy Arctic Circle.

Sydney-based Emma Rowan-Kelly travelled to the to capture images of the icy landscape and its endangered inhabitants. “I was taken with the fact that this archipelago in the Arctic Circle had a polar bear population 3 times that of humans and it was all due to the harshness of the environment, combined with that it never had an indigenous human population.”

One of Rowan-Kelly’s goals was to create a strong connection of the polar bear’s link to humans. “People are aware that polar bears are in real trouble, the scientists are warning us there is a risk of them becoming extinct.”

“I don’t want them to become some “˜mythical’ creature when we can do something to prevent that happening. So as an artist I wanted to focus on a positive delivery of the message, these beings are wonderful, get to know them, care about them.”

So how do you get a photo of one of these bears, while keeping a safe distance? “I took a long zoom lens and stayed down at their eye level or even lower.”

“Shooting from a Zodiac is perfect as it is a safe way to get quite close to the bears without encroaching on their territory. It helps to have a great spotter to find them from a distance- “˜a creamy spot in the snow’- and if you are lucky you get a bow bear – which is a curious bear who approaches right up to where the ship is in the ice and looks for a way to get in to the strange large metal iceberg that smells of food.”

An exhibition of Rowan-Kelly’s work from her trip, “˜Innocent Arctic’, is showing from 22 February until March 5, 2011, at the Depot II Gallery.

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