Penguin ascension wins wildlife photographer prize

Posted on October 18, 2012 by UNITED PHOTO PRESS MAGAZINE


Everybody loves penguins. They're cuddly, funny and sometimes, like here, remarkably graceful. More interested than most, though, is Paul Nicklen. He has just become the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer Year for this photo, Bubble-jetting emperors, which was no easy task to capture.

Nicklen was near a colony of emperor penguins in a frozen area of the Ross Sea in Antarctica. He found a hole in the ice where he hoped the diving penguins would exit, leaving him a perfect window to catch them charging up to the surface. He waited underwater, holding himself still against the ice and breathing through a snorkel to avoid producing bubbles.

By the time the penguins showed up, his fingers were frozen - and the birds were moving so fast that he had to wing it on focusing and framing.

"It was a fantastic sight, as hundreds launched themselves out of the water and onto the ice above me," he recalled, "a moment that I felt incredibly fortunate to witness and one I'll never forget."

Nicklen has made a career of photographing the animal inhabitants of the iciest regions of our planet. He's captured polar bears, walruses, leopard seals and dozens of other animals against the backdrop of magnificent tundra. Beyond aesthetics, though, he's concerned to show how our world is changing. He says one of his biggest concerns is global warming, having spent much of his life in frosty ecosystems, and that all his photos have a deeper environmental message.

"I think that what happens is that we become very busy, very isolated from the environment," he says. "We sit at our desk and then go home and watch TV, and all we hear about is politics and not the environment. How are we supposed to care about it if we don't know about it?"

Nicklen became a wildlife photographer after becoming frustrated with scientific expeditions into the Arctic that did little to ultimately help wildlife.

"Science was incredibly important but it didn't seem to sway decisions. Decisions seem to be swayed by politics," he said.

So Nicklen decided to try to reach people on a larger, more public scale with his photos, in the hopes that they'll get involved.

"I call myself an interpreter and a translator," he says on his website. "I translate what the scientists are telling me. If we lose ice, we stand to lose an entire ecosystem. I hope we realise through my photography how interconnected these species are to ice. It just takes one image to get someone's attention."