EMPEROR OF THE NORTH
Svalbard, Norway 2017
What adjectives best describe an adult male polar bear? This question is often the start of a cognitive process that bends back and prompts me in my deliberations as to how to take an animal’s portrait in a way that does it justice. There is process in the preconception of ideas because ideally, I want to convey the most considered of these adjectives in my photography. I am sensitive to the need to deliver with a portrait, as I am all too aware that wildlife photography can be dull, when at best it must be creative and evocative.
Polar bears are certainly big and dangerous. But they are more than that – they sit at the top of the food chain at the top of the world. Inevitably, imagery of polar bears is often used to endorse and emphasise the cold but great photographs of this alpha mammal should also surely convey majesty and sovereignty. Of all the predators on our planet – including the lion – it is the polar bear that I find the most regal. That was the prompt in my preconception – I needed to home in on the majesty of the polar bear.
To do this well requires a special image – there is no room for anything other than intimacy and crystal sharp focus against a perfect backdrop. Svalbard is no “studio” – it is the wild and this goes some way to explaining why this image was preceded by five years of failure. The bear’s distinctive Roman nose is best captured with the mammal perpendicular to the camera with his head raised.
I wanted an image that celebrates the life of the Emperor of the North – there is no appetite on my part to deliver another hackneyed image documenting global warming. The polar bear should never be regarded as ordinary or familiar – because it is neither. That gorgeous summer’s day, I shot almost directly into the sun and the glittering sea is apposite – this is a celebration of the glory of planet earth and the polar bear’s position at its summit. He is the Emperor of the North and the star of this image. I was just a bystander with a decent camera.