Aftermath, Pybus Bay, Alaska, 2013
A violent storm, no stranger to the Alaskan coast, had ripped this tree from the earth. It probably drifted with the tides, and wound up tossed upon this rocky shore, its vast root system exposed and useless. I found a haunted beauty in its form, and when I made this image I saw it as a black and white photograph, which worked well for my intentions. I wanted this tree to retreat into the darkness of the living forest behind it, a reminder that all things that live also eventually die.
Double Take, Pybus Bay, Alaska, 2013
I use the mirrored surface of utterly calm water here to reflect the complexity of the tangle of dead trees and branches resting upon a bed of lichen covered rock. The colors are essential to this image – the reflected canopy of green foliage and the golden lichen covering the tree trunk express new life hosted by the ghostly trees and dead branches. The symmetry of this image creates a dual pattern, bringing order to chaos, and showing a natural lifecycle in an esthetically beautiful way..
Stellar sea lion rookery – a second visit. Brothers Islands, Alaska, 2013
On my initial visit to this rookery four days earlier, I photographed it from a greater distance and a higher position while on board a small cruise ship. On this second visit, I could photograph these sea lions from sea level and closer vantage point. I built this image around the dynamic interactions at the crest of the rocky rookery. Although there are many sea lions in this image, our eye goes directly to the dispute at the peak of the rock, where the raised heads of two sea lions echo the mountain peak rising behind it. Meanwhile, two other sea lions are giving each other an earful on the right hand end of the slope.
The trio, Stellar sea lion rookery, Brothers Islands, Alaska, 2013
This close-up study of a sea lion pup caught between a pair of adults composed itself for me. The three heads, all featuring wide-open jaws, are naturally positioned for coherence and eye flow. It is if they are a trio of opera singers performing an aria. The coarse rocks on either side of this grouping provide both context and contrast.
Family portrait, Stellar sea lion rookery, Brothers Island, Alaska, 2013
I visited this rookery at the height of the breeding season. In this family portrait, I place a bull at the center, controlling its territory in the rookery. Females give birth soon after arriving at the rookery, and they will breed here one to two weeks after giving birth. The pups in this picture are about a month old – the result of the previous year’s breeding season. This bull controls this territory for two months. Stellar sea lion bulls, which can weigh more than 2,000 pounds, do not coerce females into harems. Instead they control specific territories among which females freely move about.
Followers, Stellar sea lion rookery, Brothers Island, Alaska, 2013
Reproductive males will fast throughout the breeding season, often without entering the water for more than two months. Yet at one point during our half hour shoot, a bull momentarily abandoned the rookery, while all of the pups and cows in its territory followed him into the water. In this image, I caught the bull looking towards the rookery, his entourage lined up behind him. I structure the image as a series of horizontal layers, starting with the sea lions in the foreground, and then moving to the stretch of rocks behind them, and finally to the snowcapped mountains in the background. It was sight I had never seen before.
Five Fingers Lighthouse, Frederick Sound, Alaska, 2013
This Art Deco lighthouse was built in 1935, one of many government sponsored public works programs during the Great Depression. It is the second lighthouse on this site – its predecessor was built in 1902, the first manned lighthouse in Alaska. It burned to the ground in 1933. All of Alaska’s lighthouses built during the 1930s were designed in this Art Deco style. The last four-man US Coast Guard crew left Five Fingers lighthouse in 1984, making it the both the first and last Alaskan lighthouse to be manned. This lighthouse was the last in the US to become automated, and the Coast Guard leases it to the Juneau Lighthouse Association, which is gradually restoring the structure. Our cabin cruiser circled the island, giving me a chance to shoot the lighthouse from many different vantage points. Rather than just shoot the structure, I decided to use a wideangle focal length to include the surrounding trees, overhead clouds, and the wake of our boat. I use the vertical tower to link all of these elements.
Curious humpback, Frederick Sound, Alaska, 2013
Nearly 20,000 humpbacks spend their summers in Alaskan waters, where they feed. They migrate to Hawaii for the winter. where they will live off their fat reserves while breeding. The females breed every two or three years, and bear their young in both northern and southern waters. Humpbacks are often curious about objects in their environments. Some of them gain a reputation as “friendlies” and will approach boats to check them out. This whale is a friendly. It circled our small boat at fairly close range for over fifteen minutes, and at one point we saw its head come up out the water to inspect us visually. I caught the moment of inspection here, just as an exhaled cloud of steam was rising from the whale’s head.
Wary brown bear, Cannery Cove, Pybus Bay, Alaska, 2013
There are more than 1,500 brown bears living on Admiralty Island. Most of them feed on grasses growing along the beaches of the island’s perimeter. Most of Southeastern Alaskan brown bears are known as coastal brown bears. (Those that live inland are called inland grizzly bears.) There is a beach at the head of Cannery Cover, only a few minutes from our fishing camp. We motored over to it every evening to wait for bears to come down towards the water to feed. On this evening, we found a feeding brown bear not far from the edge of the water. We cut the outboard motor, and glided silently through the high grass at high tide. At one point, this bear stopped feeding and looked squarely at us. I framed this wary bear with lots of grass around it to stress the ample food supply here, including some of the water to add context for our approach.
High tension, Cannery Cove, Pybus Bay, Alaska, 2013
Only three minutes after I made the previous image, this same brown bear moved forward to the very edge of the water, only a few yards away from our small boat. We could come no further to make a picture – the bottom of our outboard skiff was virtually resting on the bottom. The bear shows us its teeth, its stare intense. I was able to catch the essence of the moment here. This was the closest I have ever been to a brown bear in the wild. My guide was confident that it would come no closer, but added that the bear was “staring us down” and it would be “preferable” for us to leave. We did.
Ready and waiting, Cannery Cove, Pybus Bay, Alaska, 2013
This is the most startling image I’ve ever made of a brown bear. As with nearly every bear we encountered in Alaska, it was grazing on lush grasses that bordered a beach not far from our fly-in fishing camp. Pictures of feeding bears with their heads down and often with their backs turned are usually not very expressive. The best advice that I can offer those making photographs of bears is to have the patience to be willing to wait for the bear to do something other than eat. We floated down to this bear and anchored just off shore. I watched it graze for more than fifteen minutes. Suddenly it stopped, turned towards me, and reared up on its hind legs. I was looking at 1,500 pounds of bear, standing nearly nine feet tall. Our guide told me that bears would sometimes do this to identify a threat. Its claws are held in readiness at its waist – it most likely thinks that we might be threatening its food, and is ready and waiting to defend it. It held this position for about a minute. This is the image that best expressed the moment.
Summer night, Cannery Cove, Pybus Bay, Alaska, 2013
The tide has receded, leaving the log breakwater protecting the shoreline of our fishing camp high and dry. The long Alaskan day lingers well into the evening hours. It is almost 10:00 pm, and there is still enough light for this lone boater to navigate around the logs that float alongside. The mood here is one of silence. Only the cries of the eagles in the overhead trees break that silence.