February 01, 2022

Photos by Camille Seaman 

Ready for a unique and fresh perspective on an amazing and more than unique travel location?

Camille Seaman takes us to one of the most important spots on our planet - Antarctica. And does so in her own way equipped with a deep appreciation of nature and 15 years of travel experience in the area.

Camille Seaman is a photographer with a passion for ice. She's been working in Alaska, raising the alarm about a landscape that's melting away. Also, for more than 15 years she's been sharing her love and care for Antarctica. Camille strongly believes in capturing photographs that articulate that humans are not separate from nature. Her photographs have been published in National Geographic Magazine, Italian Geo, German GEO, TIME, The New York Times Sunday magazine, Newsweek, among many others. She is a TED Senior Fellow, Stanford Knight Fellow as well as a Cinereach Filmmaker in Residence Fellow.

Today, Camille tells us her story of returning to Antarctica in the time of Covid.

Take it away, Camille! (Read article below)

 

Double rainbow Beagle channelDouble rainbow in the Beagle Channel as we depart for Antarctica, DEC2021

The things that keep me enthralled with Antarctica are the light and the ice.

Sure penguins are absolutely amazing creatures and of course I make hundreds of photographs of them. I fell in love almost 20 years ago when I saw my first Iceberg in the Weddell Sea.

Nothing boggles the mind as easily as beholding a massive tabular iceberg that renders your ship insignificant. If you are lucky the light will kiss those epic drifting colossus and then it’s a sort of voodoo magic.

“You cannot fake time.”

This wisdom was told to me in the early days of my photo career and I understood what it meant that if you want to make a true document of a place, or subject you must put in the time. I have been fortunate enough to have been working in Antarctica since 2004 almost every year until Covid happened.

When I left Antarctica in February of 2020 I had no idea that I might not ever make it back due to a global pandemic. I had contracts to work on ships get cancelled one after the other as 2020 became 2021. Even this trip in December of 2021 seemed precariously perched on a razors edge as Delta and Omicron became serious. Three covid tests to arrive to the plane in Miami from my home in Ireland, a bubble of fully vaccinated, masked travellers on a chartered flight to Ushuaia. Well sort of, we’d have to detour to Santiago for fuel and flight crew change then direct to the ship without the usual time we’d wonder around the town of Ushuaia. In all, it was some 48 hours of travel to reach the ship from my home.

I was out of practice traveling. My bags felt heavier, I overpacked, seemed to lack the finesse of navigating my way from here to there, maybe it was the mask that made it all so much warmer? I almost asked myself was it worth it? Could all this be worth coming here once more?

The light and the ice answered with a resounding.... yes!

Antarctica Solstice Sunrise, Weddell Sea, Antarctica, DEC2021

This would be my first assignment on National Geographic Resolution, a brand new (build completed in NOV2021) state of the art hybrid diesel electric icebreaker with a strange looking X- Bow design.

My trip would be only the second trip of this ship with passengers. My cabin was amazing, the ship is beautiful and inspiring. It is a very silent ship, maybe due to the electric azipod motor that turned the propellor. The bridge looks like something out of Star Trek! After settling in we made our way out of the Beagle channel and south across the Southern Ocean.

Gentoo penguins in snow storm Gentoo Penguins in Snow Storm, Cuverville Island, Antarctica, DEC2021

We tried our best to always find the good weather. And I am thankful to both the Expedition Leader and Captain for their constant efforts, still we had days of immense snow fall, and I thought for sure I would finally need my Vallerret gloves, but they were too warm and so I went gloveless.

I know you may be thinking that of course it snows in Antarctica but it’s supposed to be summer and Antarctica should not be having this much precipitation. Snow makes it difficult for penguins to build nests (they need rocks to build their nests and bare ground to find the stones). No nests means no chicks. No chicks, no grown up penguins for that season.

However, the Gentoos are doing very well considering and although it’s troubling it wasn’t too disparaging.

Moonset Weddel sea Moonset, Weddell Sea, Antarctica, DEC2021

The EL (expedition leader) and the Captain decide to take us into the Weddell Sea on the eastern side of the Peninsula. Because of the Ice Breaking ability of the ship it meant we were able to safely (and very comfortably) go where most ships would not dare to.

This is because the Weddell Sea is very extreme when it comes to sea ice, massive tabular icebergs and swiftly changing winds and conditions.

It was here after all that so many expeditions became trapped (Shackleton) sunk (The SS Antarctic) etc. I had not been as far into the Weddell Sea since my very first trip in 2004.

Emperor penguins on Sea Ice Emperor Penguins on Sea Ice at Sunrise, Weddell Sea, Antarctica, DEC2021  

 

Back then I had no idea that there was an Emperor Penguin Colony there near Snow Hill Island. Although sometimes in the years since we would sometimes encounter the odd one Emperor on an iceberg I had never seen any sort of real numbers.

This year we were able to make it there just in time to find a good number of Emperors resting around some fast ice.

The ship parked into the ice staying with them all evening. I enjoyed listening to them trumpet, I was up past three that night outside in the pink light as the moon set and the sun rose.

Because we are close to the Antarctic Circle there is a sunset but it never really gets dark and the sunrises only an hour later, this creates the potential for a spectacular combination of sunset and sunrise colours that can last for hours if the conditions are right.

 

Emperor penguins on Sea Ice

Emperor Penguins on Sea Ice, Weddell Sea, Antarctica, DEC2021

 

As you can see we had some wonderful opportunities to get off the ship an into either kayaks or zodiacs and then cruise along the ice edge where we cold find some of these magnificent penguins. After a few days in the Weddell Sea the winds changed and that meant it was time to head back to the Western side of the Peninsula.

While on ship in all public spaces we wore our masks, every few days the entire ship (crew and passengers) were tested for covid. All was well and the adventures continued.

One thing I really appreciated about the captain was his never ending curiosity. One evening as we made our way in the southern end of the Lemaire Channel I heard him on the radio say, “There’s an interesting iceberg over there, let’s go check it out.” It looked like something out of a science fiction film, or maybe Mordor. The light was getting better, and even though it was very cold he decided to position the ship just-so and wait for the sun to set lower into the clouds.

 

Captain's Castle Iceberg

The Captain’s Castle Iceberg, Lemaire Channel, Antarctica, DEC2021

 

I’m thankful to the captain for that sort of spirit. That sort of knowing when something is special. In the days that followed there were many more occasions where the captain and the EL made great calls. And when I knew partly from experience partly just trusting my gut, that this would be the night to stay up til 3 or sometimes 4am.

At one point we found ourselves once again in the Weddell Sea, and all the adult Emperors had left returning out to the deep sea leaving a handful of juveniles on their own. I had that feeling, the clouds were just right. That this would be the night to stay up late, the wind stilled and as the sun set behind Cockburn Island no one awake could believe it was not a dream. For the sun set colours never faded but simply merged into the sun rise colours and that bit of voodoo magic happened.. it was just a matter of time.

 

Three icebergs

Three Giant Tabular Icebergs at Sunrise on the Solstice in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica, DEC2021

 

Of course, not all trips to Antarctica will yield these types of conditions, or images.

To increase your chances you must be:

  1. Awake
  2. Outside
  3. Dressed warmly
  4. Prepared equipment wise (cards and charged batteries)

One of the last things I think of when I recall all of my years in Antarctica is that is, or was, cold. There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Know your weak spots. Chance favours the prepared.

I am thankful to Vallerret for their super warm mitts and gloves.

by Camille Seaman

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, check out these other great topics!

 

 


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