Adventures in the Extreme North: Stunning Photos from Sebastian Copeland’s ‘Arctica’

 © Arctica: The Vanishing North by Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Otto Fjord, latitude N79º on Ellesmere Island, Canadian Arctic, Photo © 2015 Sebastian Copeland. All rights reserved. www.sebastiancopeland.com


“People have this misguided idea of what the Arctic represents because it’s so foreign and distant,” says explorer Sebastian Copeland. That’s why he’s spent some 15 years traveling there — often alone — capturing the fast-changing region in photographs for the rest of the world to see. His latest book, Arctica: The Vanishing North, shows off a portfolio that includes close encounters with polar bears, whales, and, of course, vast quantities of ice. It’s a body of work that’s unprecedented in its scope and intimacy of one of the most barren regions on Earth. “I don’t glorify it, I portray it,” says the 51-year-old Copeland. Here, from Arctica, are five photos taken by Copeland and the stories of the shot. 

The Remains of a Polar Bear

(© Arctica: The Vanishing North by Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Bay of Qanaaq, Northern Greenland, Photo © 2015 Sebastian Copeland. All rights reserved. www.sebastiancopeland.com)

This photo of a decaying polar bear was taken on the barren Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic. It “is a relatively young bear that likely died from starvation, but it might have been killed by an aggressive male pursuing the mother,” says Copeland. The fact that the flesh was still on the body, dehydrated and relatively untouched “speaks to the scarcity of scavengers in this part of the world.”

RELATED: Sebastian Copeland, One of the 50 Most Adventurous Men

Spire Island

(© Arctica: The Vanishing North by Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Bay of Qanaaq, Northern Greenland, Photo © 2015 Sebastian Copeland. All rights reserved. www.sebastiancopeland.com)

This rock spire on Devon Island overlooks Radstock Bay and, according to Copeland, is an excellent outpost for spotting polar bears. It’s also the scene of one of Copeland’s closest calls in the Arctic. 

“I was on the sea ice looking for bears when the wind shifted, the ice started to move and formed a channel between me and land. I was trapped, without radio and by myself. On top of that, I had been walking for about six hours and had only my cameras, a quarter of a food bar, my weapon, and a little water. 

I looked for an area that connected to land and it took me a few kilometers of walking to realize that the gap was widening and the entire ice floe was moving. It took me seven hours to find a way back to shore. Now, I’m not an especially dramatic guy, but I grabbed earth in both hands and dropped my face in it. The ice by that point had moved 1/2 km away from the shore. 

The following morning, exhausted, I woke up to find the entire bay free of ice. I’d been walking on the bay for three days and just like that, the wind turned and it was gone.”

EXTREME GEAR: 11 Things You Need to Walk to the North Pole

Stalking Polar Bear

(© Arctica: The Vanishing North by Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Bay of Qanaaq, Northern Greenland, Photo © 2015 Sebastian Copeland. All rights reserved. www.sebastiancopeland.com)

Copeland has a complicated relationship with the top predator in the Arctic, which is both his main threat and an animal he advocates for humans to better protect. “If it really came down to it, it’s going to have to be the bear or you — and it would be quite unfair,” says Copeland. “That bear didn’t ask you to be there. it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing. But it’s not your space or territory. Bears are extraordinarily good predators. I’m also a predator, a photographer, an image hunter. But I have some moral quandaries about, How far is too far to get the shot?”

A Land of Ice

(© Arctica: The Vanishing North by Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Bay of Qanaaq, Northern Greenland, Photo © 2015 Sebastian Copeland. All rights reserved. www.sebastiancopeland.com)

This image probably best captures the mood of Arctica; stunning, dark, fragile, and cold. In fact, the density and mass of cold salt water is what creates mirror-like reflections that Copeland so expertly captures throughout the book. The 24 hours of daylight  of during the summer season in northern Greenland, where this was taken, doesn’t hurt either. 

A Moment with a Sled Dog

(© Arctica: The Vanishing North by Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Bay of Qanaaq, Northern Greenland, Photo © 2015 Sebastian Copeland. All rights reserved. www.sebastiancopeland.com)

This photo was taken off of Ellesmere Island’s Otto Fjord “where the bay spits out icebergs like a dispenser and you get incredible reflections because of the low temperature” of the water, says Copeland. At one point, this lone sled dog — brought along for early bear warning — jumped on a piece of ice in front of Copeland “for a moment, and I just managed to get my camera out and steal a shot. You’ll notice the frame is not level because it was this spontaneous, imperfect moment.”

(© Arctica: The Vanishing North by Sebastian Copeland, published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Bay of Qanaaq, Northern Greenland, Photo © 2015 Sebastian Copeland. All rights reserved. www.sebastiancopeland.com)

Arctica is available now on teneues.comAmazon.com and in bookstores.