Mike Beedell spends more summers in the Arctic than elsewhere.
On the power of photography to bring people back to their surroundings:
“As a child I had this tremendous freedom to roam and to do whatever I wanted in a natural setting. I was brought up on the side of the Ottawa River. I had my canoe, and I was able to sit and watch nature. I spent a lot of time watching birds grow, and finding their nests; I would spend a lot of time just observing wild creatures.
“Before I became a photographer, I was a very trained observer of the natural world, and I was completely engrossed in that joy of observation. When I became a photographer in my late teens and early university, I already had a tremendous level of patience and keen observation skills, of watching and appreciating the natural world.
“I’m very concerned about biodiversity on the planet and the way that our landscape is shrinking for wild creatures. My concerns about wetlands, about large landscapes for big predators, all those things inspire me to try and capture the essence of a place and the essence of these wild creatures so that people are aware of what we’re losing.”
On knowing your subject before you shoot:
“It’s all about patience and time. The quality of time is essential to capturing a lot of the essences.
“As a wilderness guide, very often I’m leading people on various journeys, oftentimes, self-propelled journeys; whitewater canoeing, sea kayaking, ski touring…. That’s a really important thing, also, to be self-propelled. That is when you begin to feel the landscape. Mechanical systems take you away from a lot of the experience, as opposed to just propelling yourself.
“If I’m spending time with a particular creature, then I’m aware of the behaviours of that animal. I’ve been asleep on a beach and had a polar bear come right up and put pressure right on my face in my sleeping bag, and opened it to look right in the face of the bear, on a solo trip. So I’ve had those types of sphincter-tightening experiences.”
On wilderness photography, then and now:
“Until only a decade ago, I was shooting with manual cameras, Nikon FM-1s, FM-2s, totally manual, the batteries would last for months at -60°C, -40°C. Now, we’ve got these energy-eating cameras. I have to work with solar panels to rebuild my power if I’m out in a remote wilderness. I have solar panels that rebuild on my kayak. The energy consumption of new camera systems is a big issue.
“Once I was fording a stream and was pulled down. I took the cameras out, dried them over a fire, opened up the base plates, and I shot for another three weeks with those cameras, and everything was fine. Digital systems are much more fragile.