You’ve been in the Arctic for a few months for a few expeditions. How was that?
The Arctic is a place of such raw and magnificent beauty that in truth it's very hard to do justice to in words and images. It really is one of those places that needs to be seen and experienced first hand.
My take home sentiment from this time in the high northern latitudes though was that as raw and beautiful this wilderness is, it’s also extremely fragile and rapidly changing.
We know you’re big on environmentalism. Why is it important to share these expedition stories?
I truly believe we will only protect those things that we feel connected to. And there are few mediums more adept at invoking an emotional connection than photo and film. Under this guise I feel compelled to use my craft to tell stories of environmental and social importance. With my personal adventure sport background, I’ve been drawn to the narratives of sportsmen and woman turned activists and campaigners.
For the most part, the idea here is to use pioneering expeditions involving these adventure activists performing extreme physical feats as a way to put the spotlight (spark dialogue, connect, campaign for and against) on some of the planets most pressing environmental issues.
We imagine shooting in the Arctic is tough on body as well as gear. How do you stay “Arctic-Proof”?
Working in harsh and remote conditions like the polar regions, where the margins for error are very small, demands that you have the right gear and knowledge of the risks that the surroundings present. This may go without saying, but something I think is overlooked when proofing yourself here, is your mindset or approach. You really need to be comfortable with the idea of adaptability and resourcefulness - things are going to go wrong and break and you need to be ready and happy to change tack and fix the problem. In many ways this is the same approach that we need to adopt when dealing with environmental problems.
From all the places you visited in the Arctic and shot, what was your favorite and why?
I’m not much into favorites as it’s such an all encompassing word or concept but one of the stand out experiences from my time in the Arctic this year was a day spent with Narwhal scientists and Inuit fisherman in the narrow reaches of Eclipse Sound, high up in the Canadian Arctic. We were there filming a super pod of Narwhals. With a drone we could see and document the whales sparring with their tusks and feeding.
We estimated there were over a thousand animals, and knowing the worldwide population sits at a lowly fifty thousand - due in part to climate change related habitat destruction - made the spectacle even more precious. The footage captured that day forms part of a Sky News documentary, called Arctic Peril premiering on the 20th December.
We read about United Nations Patron for the Oceans and cold water swimmer Lewis Pugh biting your arm to climb out of the freezing Arctic waters on a recent expedition. Can you recount the story?
Lewis Pugh swims (in a speedo) in the freezing waters of the planets polar regions in order to urge world leaders to help protect these wildernesses. My role on these swimming expeditions is not only to take photos but also swim safety.
In July, Lewis did a 1 km swim up at 80˚ North, along the edge of the Arctic sea ice. We were 1200kms from the North Pole, and the water was -0.5˚C water. By the time Lewis had completed the swim distance, he had spent just over 20 minutes in the water. This was right at the edge of what he has done before, and you could see it in his body movements. His swim stroke was severely labored, and he hit the water with clawed, cramping hands.
As he came up to the back of the boat at the end of the swim I handed him the rope loop to put his hand through that would aid him to climb into the boat. He missed it completely. He screamed “get me in the boat”. His words were almost indecipherable, as his lips, mouth and tongue were numb. For the next few minutes I wrestled to get him out of the water - the small and awkward confines of our boat meant I was the only one that could help. We teetered on the edge for what seemed like an age, until Lewis, in desperation, used the only other means of aiding his exit, and that was with his teeth. He bit down into my forearm (luckily I had a drysuit on) and hauled himself up.
It worked, and he was bundled into the boat.
For someone from South Africa, you spend a whole lot of time in Arctic regions. Any plans to head back to the Arctic?
I live in Cape Town, and currently the city is going through the worst drought for over 300 years - the city may well run out of water. This is in no small part due to climate change. Having seen and documented the polar regions over the past few years, I have come to understand how these places are the proverbial canary in the goldmine when it comes to climate change - and what happens there will affect all of us, wherever we live. So yes, I have plans to head back to the Arctic, and soon.