The Arctic Documentary Project

Posted Jun. 5th, 2010 by Daniel J. Cox

This blog entry marks the beginning of an adventure, actually more like a mission. A mission to document the changing arctic, its wildlife, landscapes and the people who make this part of the world their home. And in all reality it’s not truly the beginning for I’ve been working on this assignment for nearly my entire photographic career.  It’s actually the start of me making a decision to create a cohesive project. To compile my work in an organized manner that captures an ecosystem and it’s time in history.

Take a look at my recent shoot with Musk-ox for The Arctic Documentary Project

I’ve always been intrigued by the early days of the United States and how our government funded projects of special places–places they felt needed to be captured in words and pictures–for all of humanity. Yellowstone National Park was one such glorious example. Yellowstone had tremendous coverage just before and during it’s beginning phases of becoming this nations first national treasure. It was obvious to our early politicians how special this place was. John Colters stories of bubbling mud pots, steaming geysers and heated azure pools helped drive interest and yet disbelief of how such a place could exist. The first expeditions to the park inspired the likes of William Henry Jackson and Thomas Moran as well as Frank Haynes. The first of this group Thomas Moran a painter and Jackson and Haynes, photographers. all of them specializing in capturing this magical place in it’s most pristine condition, documenting it for the rest of the world to see and appreciate for the rest of time.

The world has obviously changed a great deal since those days in the 1800’s. There are still artists that spend untold hours laying brush to canvas or paper and there are certainly still photographers capturing one of a kind moments. But our governments interest in supporting long term documentary projects has waned considerably. How can we blame them with over 300 million people in the US and growing. Many of them with cameras of their own. Why support a documentary project when you have tens of millions of people shooting photos of some of these special places. One could make the argument that with so many people it’s even more important to document what we have left but to do so in an organized manner.  Document the last remaining wild areas, the last remaining creatures, the last pristine valleys, the last blue skies, just document the last of whatever wild is left.

I’ve quite procrastinating. I’m setting out to do my own documentary with the help of Polar Bears International. We’re calling it The Arctic Documentary Project. In reality I’ve been doing this–documenting the arctic– for over twenty years already, yet time seems short. So much of what we have left on this planet is changing quickly, most quickly in the far north. We’ve seen that changes can happen overnight such as the oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a very good possibility we may never see the Gulf again brimming with the  life we all took for granted. Instantly one major catastrophe most likely changed it forever.

Quite often I think about changes that have taken place that I never knew before they were gone. Take for example the 60 million bison that used to roam the plains of North America? I find it hard to even comprehend such massive numbers of this immense animal? I’ve always been moved and deeply bothered by how easy it is to not miss something you never knew. Once something is gone, like the bison, life is very normal. We take it for granted that the fences and tilled lands strung out from east to west is the norm. More than once, as I’ve traveled the plains of Montana, I’ve envisioned the landscape without fences. When you run into a park or protected area without the barbed wire you get the feeling of freedom. It’s quite inspiring and depressing at the same time.

I don’t want to not know, nor forget the arctic. I want to experience it before it’s gone and in doing so collect images, stories, experiences and more to share with the rest of the world. I’m hoping it may make a difference. I’m hopeful that telling these stories will build appreciation for what many may never see. That’s my longterm goal and I’m hopeful that you will join me.

This fall Polar Bears International plans to release a book with many of my arctic photos I’ve produced over the years. It’s going to be a very unique project with an unusual twist. I can’t say anymore at this time for we’re still working out all the kinks but suffice it to say it will be unique among all arctic books in several different ways. This will be the first installment of The Arctic Documentary Project.

As time passes I will continue to shoot. I’ll be collecting still images and moving images, sounds and interviews. All of it with the long term goal of preserving a land in word and pictures. Creating a historical record of what we once had. Stay tuned for several of the first interviews I’ve produced of several of the worlds leading polar bear scientists. All be adding those to this blog in the near future.

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