A warning shot

Five images that help you understand what it feels like to watch the Arctic melt

Sebastian Copeland is an award-winning photographer who has led numerous expeditions in the polar regions to photograph and film endangered environments. I interviewed him about his work and what motivates him:

Renata Collado: How and why did you become an environmental photographer?

Sebastian Copeland: To me photography is a mode of expression. At first, I made my living shooting commercial photography. But I also enjoyed extreme sports and cold environments. I had always wanted to visit the polar regions at some point in my life.

And it wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I had an opportunity to accomplish my dreams. I got sponsorships and support from different brands and was also able to become a professional athlete. And in addition to this, I had a profound interest in the environment and in climate change. So I realized I could marry my three interests: photography, extreme sports, and visiting polar regions.

Renata: Have you witnessed global warming in your expeditions?

Sebastian: I’ve witnessed climate change firsthand through my observations with the melting of ice. I’ve seen a lot more fragmentation, making it harder to travel around the polar regions. The melting of ice has also made it difficult for the Inuit’s ability to hunt. Therefore, they have to rely more on government subsidies and less on their cultural traditions, which could eventually lead to the disappearance of their customs and culture.

Renata: You were alone for long periods of time in such remote places, what did you discover about yourself in all your expeditions? What were those experiences like?

Sebastian: Mostly I think it has to do with the simplicity of life. You realize how little you actually need. When we live in metropolitan like Mexico, Paris, etc., we are so heavily conditioned by the constant need to have more; we are spoiled. But when you are in these polar regions, you can only live with what you have. There’s no shop round the corner to purchase batteries if you forgot them. You have to carry the least possible. Weight is a very serious consideration, so you have to be very selective with what you bring.

You really come to realize that you can be comfortable with very little. After living in these places, I’ve realized that life is so much simpler the less you have.

I believe living surrounded by ice is humbling because you are aware of your limitations. It’s also a place to discover yourself because it’s quiet; there’s no distractions. No email, no Facebook, no YouTube, no Netflix…

Renata: Was it hard coming back to your daily life after being away for such a long time?

Sebastian: It is hard. The readjustment is not something that I like to do immediately. I like to find a safe zone, a halfway point if you will. Between that reality and and the everyday reality. I generally like to stay around ten days in insolation to take my time to readjust. So, typically what I do is I like to come back and stay close to those latitudes at a hotel or bed and breakfast. One of the nice things of coming back is you get a pillow and a hot shower and all these things. But coming back to communicating with people, to noises, the color spectrum, the smells and all of those things are a lot to take on.

Like I said, for me there is no place more difficult to travel to than the Arctic sea in the winter. It’s rough and it’s a very difficult environment but I feel lucky to have had that experience.