A Frozen Lens At The Ends Of The World
In the Arctic at -40°C you can get frostbitten in seconds – so how do you work as a photographer out here? You have to be quick, says the man who documents this frozen world while dragging a 200kg sled...
Ever wondered who takes those jaw-dropping images of explorers battling the bitterest of the polar elements? There’s a good chance it was Martin Hartley, who’s 25-year career has seen him clock up 400 days in the Arctic and Antarctic, on more than 20 expeditions.
He’s photographed a who’s who of polar explorers from Ben Saunders to Ann Daniels while collecting snow depth measurements in the North Pole for the European Space Agency, documenting unclimbed summits in Central Asia and performing as an essential expedition team member.
Cold and technology don’t mix, and when you combine that with the need to carry all of your stuff, Hartley ends up man-hauling a massive 200kg polar sled stacked with his gear. So, what’s the draw? There must be easier things to photograph than polar bears?
Everything you touch is the same temperature as the air – twice as cold as the average freezer
Q: What’s it like to travel in at these extreme temperatures?
A: ‘Well you wake up in your sleeping bag cold, so the first thing you do is light your stove, which is a mammoth task in itself – everything you touch is the same temperature as the air; it’s twice as cold as the average freezer. And then you start moving. The first hour of the day you spend trying to metabolise the food so your body can produce heat. It’s so cold you can’t even hold your ski poles properly. By the end of the day, you cannot get into your sleeping bag quick enough – it’s difficult to describe how cold it is.’
Q: What’s the appeal of these cold, inhospitable places?
A: ‘I’ve dabbled in jungles and deserts. I must say I don’t like deserts at all. But the reason why I first started going to these places was because of the sense of adventure. When the plane drops you off and leaves, you know you’ll not be seeing it for a while.’
‘On the Arctic Ocean for instance, when a plane flies off it’s got a long way to go. You need good ice and good weather for a plane to land, which means that it can be difficult to be rescued if you get in to trouble. And that’s quite an attractive proposition for your mind to get on top of psychologically, knowing you can’t be rescued. There are very few places in the world, like the Arctic, the have that sense of remoteness and total isolation.’
Q: Do you feel it’s part of your job to record the changes that are happening in the Arctic?
A: ‘I feel a responsibility whilst I’m in the Arctic Ocean, to document it before it goes. That’s another reason to stay there and take pictures. It is disappearing rapidly, it will be gone as a summer feature certainly within the next decade.’
To learn more about Martin Hartley and his work as a polar photographer, visit www.martinhartley.com