Polar Obsession

Bookshelf: Polar Obsession

Polar Obsession – Paul Nicklen

Polar Obsession
Polar Obsession

Paul Nicklen is a National Geographic contributing photographer who grew up in the far northern reaches of Canada, living in tiny settlements mostly populated by Inuit people. From them he learned how to survive in the bitterly cold environment (summer is less than a month long), and a respect and admiration for the creatures that live in those conditions. His love for the hostile but fragile polar ecosystems led him to document them in order to raise awareness of the threat they face from global warming.

Polar Obsession is an enormous, glossy, coffee table book (too large to read comfortably in bed with one’s husband!) full of beautiful photographs of polar bears, sea birds, seals, whales, wolves, reindeer, penguins, krill, and the polar landscapes.

Nicklen ventures into the freezing (-1.5 degrees celcius) water, and swims under the ice to capture the activity of the creatures who spend time there. Many planktonic creatures – amphipods, copepods and krill – congregate under the ice, and are devoured by whales and various fish such as Arctic cod. His photographs bear out the fact that he has exercised profound patience in order to capture the particular moments and interactions – a lot of his job is waiting for everything to be in the right state: light, weather, and the animal itself.

Nicklen’s stories about how he took some of the photographs are wonderful and often hilarious. This little video describes one of the stories and photo series in the book: an interaction Nicklen had with a female leopard seal.


There are is another video on YouTube about the book here, and you can see some more of Nicklen’s polar photos here and here. For those who are interested in the technicalities of this kind of work, Nicklen lists his camera gear and the supplies he would require for a photographic expedition in the far north or south. He often wears a drysuit even when working on the ice, because he has fallen through the ice more than once, and a drysuit dramatically improves his chances of survival.

This is a magnificent book – one of my friends, who has a special fondness for polar bears, is getting it for Christmas! It made me want to visit South Georgia Island and the Antarctic particularly much.

You can purchase a copy of the book here if you’re in South Africa, and here if you’re not.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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