Nat Geo photographer Acacia Johnson heads to her studio in Anchorage
Acacia Johnson grew up in Alaska, the largest U.S. state―and with 57 million acres of designated wilderness, including glaciers, mountains, volcanoes, wetlands, tundra, and coastline―surely its wildest. Johnson spent much of her childhood in the great outdoors and was intrigued to try out the new Nat Geo Apparel collection in the Alaskan elements. “As a child, it was something that I had to do,” says Johnson. “And then it became … the only thing that I wanted to do.” Her photography reflects her love of the Earth’s polar regions, with their unique seasons, ecosystems, and people.
The Seward Highway connects Anchorage with Kenai Fjords National Park
Johnson, age 31, has already led more than 50 expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica as a guide and photographer. She has documented everything from Inuit communities on Baffin Island to wildlife inhabiting a caldera on Antarctica’s Deception Island to the dynamics of sea ice and algae across the polar regions. Johnson’s motivation is conservation: “Environmental stewardship is an ongoing task, and the stories that we witness and that we tell are both a gift and a responsibility to pass on.”
These trees are part of a temperate rainforest extending to California
Just two-and-a-half hours from Anchorage by car, Kenai Fjords National Park is a spectacular and diverse wilderness where temperate forests and mountains meet glaciers that have carved out the deep fjords that give the park its name. Johnson spent a summer season here in her 20s―an experience that cemented her love of photography. “To really understand the changes affecting a place requires immersion and real, real attention to the cycles of life,” she says, “which are lessons that I’ve carried with me in my work in conservation photography.”
Sea lions congregate on rocks in Resurrection Bay, Alaska
Kenai Fjords National Park includes 545 miles (875 kilometers) of Pacific coastline, and the waters surrounding the park are home to many marine species―from seals and sea lions to a variety of cetaceans, including porpoises, minke whales, fin whales, orcas, and humpback whales. The city of Seward borders the park, and is a popular destination for visitors embarking on whale-watching and other boat tours.
Gray whales breach off the coast of Kenai Fjords National Park
In spring it’s possible to see gray whales off the coast of Kenai Fjords National Park. These ocean giants grow to lengths of 40 to nearly 50 feet[MWM1] . They undertake one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal―traveling thousands of miles from the warm waters of Baja California, Mexico, north to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. “Gray whales are descended from animals that were on Earth over 30 million years ago,” says Johnson.
One of dozens of glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park
The Harding Icefield is a key feature of Kenai Fjords National Park. Covering more than 700 square miles (1,800 square kilometers) of the Kenai Mountains, it is the source of the dozens of glaciers that have helped shape the landscape here, including the deep fjords that give the park its name. But some of these glaciers are in retreat―most notably the famous Exit Glacier, whose snout has retreated into the mountains over the last two centuries.
Chunks of ice on a beach mark a glacier’s terminus in Kenai Fjords National Park
Alaska has been warming twice as fast as the global average since the mid-20th century. Rapid increases in temperatures across the Far North and Arctic regions are a massive contributor to global sea level rise through melting ice sheets and glaciers, as well as thermal expansion of ocean water. “Every time I’m out photographing in the wilderness, I’m very conscious of my impact,” says Johnson. That includes choosing gear that performs―but is also sustainably made using recycled and bio-based materials that are less harmful to the environment.
Slow photography on a beach at dusk in Kenai Fjords National Park
Johnson is passionate about analog photography―shooting on film using a classic camera. “When you take a photograph on film, you’re preserving that moment … in silver, which is a precious metal, and creating a tangible object from time,” she reflects. “And I think that’s a pretty magical thing to be doing.” This “slow” approach to photography also helps her settle into the rhythms of the natural world, which is her predominant subject.
Johnson’s storytelling is driven by a desire to protect wild places
For Johnson, every action matters when it comes to conservation―from the stories we tell to the products we buy. “I think more and more people are coming to realize just how important sustainability is―and is going to be―moving forward toward, hopefully, a future that is in better balance with the natural world. But we have to act if that’s going to happen. We forget that everything is connected―all of life.”
Discover the new National Geographic Apparel Collection: adventure-ready clothing with sustainability at its core.
Visit thecorem.com/nationalgeographic to shop the collection.