THE NORTH SLOPE
Alaska, USA – 2018
This photograph taken high up on the North Slope of Alaska is special to
me. The encounter in this bitterly cold sandbank near Prudhoe Bay seems almost surreal. It is a photograph I had always aspired to take. The best pictures can never be retaken.
There were two or three key elements to its capture. First, because the physical enormity of an adult bear is best conveyed head-on and from low on the ground, my team and I had to try and find a position where the terrain offered a horizon and an incline between me and the bear. The second and more important dynamic was to use the 25-mile-per- hour wind to our favor. Bears can smell us from a long way away if they are downwind. The overriding factor, of course, was my team’s safety. At all times we had to have an escape route. We knew what to do here, and we had the best Inuit guide in the area. We felt safe with him, but please do not try this at home.
This bear is enormous, and my positioning shows that off. It was all over in maybe five seconds, but I will never forget them.
People understandably worry about polar bear numbers, but rest assured there are still a lot of big, healthy bears
on the North Slope. I think we saw
more than 25 in a week. There are two conceivable causes of habitat loss for polar bears: one from global warming and one from population growth and human encroachment. While both seem distant right now, they are certainly issues that need to be monitored and addressed.