I think two elements often need to coalesce to create a memorable bear image in Alaska; proximity to a big brute of a bear in the first place and then a transcending level of context. I have come close before, but never emphatically nailed it. We have had far more failure than success.
Then in mid-August 2021 I had my moment. These types of portraits demand a wider narrative and the snow and the mountains give a very clear nod to life in the final frontier. I still can’t quite believe our luck, but then again, we have put in the hours up here over the years.
I am crystal clear in my mind who I have to thank for this capture; our mountain guide Connor Ketchum. We had worked with him before and knew that his instinctive reaction and control of the river boat were of Olympic standard. He knows the fast-flowing river and its varying depth well and can manœuvre his boat with speed and sensitivity to a bear’s behaviour. Without his skill we would never have had the bear in this position with the mountain range behind.
The pebble beach above the river bank offered a wonderful stage for the bear to visually “pop” against a stunning backdrop, but we had to get there in seconds and Connor achieved this with grace and precision. Most importantly of all, by turning the engine off and drifting into position, the bear’s behaviour was unaffected. He just walked regally towards us in his role of “Boss of the river”. Had his path altered as a result of our presence, there would have been no picture. The game was won by speed and stealth.
In the summer of 2021, we used bush pilots over a dozen times in Alaska and had some disheartening days. That is the nature of the game, but on our final day we had this two-minute encounter at the edge of the world. It made everything worthwhile and we thank our friend from Arkansas - the legend that is Connor Ketchum. Without him there was no photograph and we are again reminded of the people that help us on a daily basis.