This powerful portrait of a huge coastal brown bear in Funnel Creek, Katmai National Park, Alaska works because of the eye to eye face off. My eye is level or indeed marginally lower than his and that required getting very wet. There are few dry days in the field in Alaska and this was not one of them.
Over and above our matching line of vision, the simplicity of the image is helped by the absence of distractions – there is clearly nothing in the print that is not part of the bear itself. A corner of distant tundra or sky would disturb the sense of the complete and create an eye grabbing tension point. This effect is only really possible with a “head on” perspective and it shows the vastness of adult bears. This bear probably weighed 950 pounds – five times that of an average man.
Encounters like this tend to be singular moments – with no other photographers nearby. In the salmon run seasons, great precision is required to know where the salmon are running on any particular week – with that comes clues as to where to find the bears. The greater the number of salmon in the river, the less a bear will worry about human presence; my trespass – once acknowledged – was accepted and life carried on. This bear was simply being a bear – he posed no threat.