Paul Nicklen on Protecting the Arctic

“There is an incredible urgency in the work that I am doing, I must shoot these pictures now.” —Paul Nicklen

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I expected this 12-foot-long (4-meter) female to flee with her catch, a live penguin chick, but instead she dropped it on my camera. Then she opened her mouth and engulfed the camera-and most of my head. After 45 minutes of more threats, she finally relaxed and ate. The next day, as if wanting an audience, she came looking for me. This photo was taken in the Antarctic.

Paul Nicklen says that he found photography through frustration. A marine biologist by training, he grew tired of the watching the gap grow between the science he loved and the public’s knowledge of environmental issues. Specializing in polar regions, Nicklen says cold climates are place of comfort for him. He grew up in the Arctic climate of Northern Canada and learned early on how to survive in the harsh environment.

Working so closely with leopard seals, walruses, and polar bears, many of his assignments put his life in danger. To him, the risks are worth taking because the Arctic he knew and loved as a child—and as an adult—is disappearing. He feels that he must do what he can to bring the rapidly changing global environment to the world’s attention. Nicklen has published 11 stories in National Geographic magazine and has received awards from World Press Photo and Pictures of the Year International. —Caitlin Kleiboer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This video portrait was produced by National Geographic magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. It is part of an ongoing series of conversations with the photographers of the magazine, exploring the power of photography and why this life of imagemaking suits them so well. Learn more about the making of the series and watch the full trailer here.

View more of Paul Nicklen’s work on his websiteand follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Video Production Credits
Photographer: Paul Nicklen
Producers: Pamela Chen, NGM
Chad A. Stevens, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Associate Producer: Elyse Lipman, NGM
Editor: Kathryn Carlson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Camera and Sound: Spencer Millsap, NGM, Shannon Sanders, NGM