National Geographic photographer presents shots from wildlife

Photography as physical endurance and dangerous adventure illuminated The Broad Stage on Thursday night when Paul Nicklen, one of National Geographic's most respected photographers, presented his work, a collection of memories gathered for 14 years in the polar region.

Nicklen has traveled to the farthest, coldest regions of the earth and captured through his lens the enrapturing vistas and wildlife.

The special presentation was titled "Polar Obsession: Photography from the Ends of the Earth," which treated the audience to an hour of stories and images, some of which are still unpublished by National Geographic.

Nicklen specializes in working in the polar region. During the talk, he described himself as a photojournalist, "who dives under the ice and gets borderline hypothermic."

Among the pictures of vast landscapes covered in ice or lush forests, some photos revealed the physical endurance of shooting in the wild. In one shot, Nicklen, in full scuba gear, rose from underneath a sheet of ice, his lips swollen from the cold.

"I have the early onset of hypothermia here," Nicklen said. "I'm so cold, I look up at my assistant Jeff, and I was signaling him to get me out of the water, and he thought I wanted him to take my picture."

Another photo showed Nicklen's regular polar base a tent sitting in the middle of a vast sea of snow.

"This is home for three months at a time," Nicklen said. "I don't let any heat in because if you trap heat in there, you won't want to come out and work."

Nicklen discussed his passion for living in cold weather and exploring nature, which began at the age of 4 when his parents moved the family from Canada to a small island community near Greenland.

"I learned the survival skills I would need for what I now do," he said.

National Geographic reaches about 40 million people with one story, which drives his passion, Nicklen said.

Other photos from the polar regions told stories about animal life that were as personal as any human experiences. In one shot, a female polar bear is pushing away a male that persistently follows her.

"I sat out there for 24 hours observing these two thinking they would mate," Nicklen said. "But she kept pushing him away, and he would follow her around and around, howling because he really wanted to mate with her so badly."

The photos Nicklen shared ranged from adorable to ferocious. In one shot, a small leopard seal looks at the camera from under a sheet of ice. In another photo, a polar bear snarls with a gash on his face from a fight for the right to mate with a female.

Nicklen described the perils of coming so close to the animals he photographed. As an example, he presented some footage in which a bear's nuzzle is touching the lens. The same bear then proceeds to tear apart the camera and gear with its claws.

"I love having to put together the pieces of broken equipment and then ship them off to National Geographic," Nicklen said. "It shows them that we are working hard out there."

In one photo, a 50-foot-long bowhead whale passes by Nicklen's camera. So large was the beast in the photo that it created a huge space of clear water around itself just by ascending upward from the depths of the ocean.

Among Nicklen's most famous works is his documentation of the life of emperor penguins.

For his reporting, he won the 2012 World Press Photo of the Year award. The photos he showed were comic and sometimes heartbreaking. In one shot, teenage penguins lounge around, bored as they look at Nicklen's small Cessna plane sitting on the ice. In another, an abandoned baby penguin sits in the cold, soon to die.

Nicklen ended the presentation with a call for preservation of the wildlife, especially in the hemisphere. He spoke about the successful campaign by Greenpeace last month, which moved to block oil tankers from operating in the farthest reaches of British Columbia.

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