Fear no storm: Photographing the Arctic with Hannes Becker
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An interview with landscape photographer Hannes Becker

Fear no storm: Photographing the Arctic with Hannes Becker

Words— Yang Shi

Capturing the essence of the glaciers is no mean feat. Hannes Becker is an outdoor photographer who specializes in the world’s most remote regions, with a particular emphasis on the Arctic. Among his recent expeditions, Becker explored the Greenland coastlines with the mission to capture rare images celebrating wildlife and the beauty of these lands.


I was able to chat with him about his visit to the north and what it means to be an arctic photographer in the age of climate change. 


How are you doing? Where are you right now?

I'm doing pretty well. I had a busy summer. Right now, I am just enjoying being home in Germany, winding down a little bit. 


Where did you shoot this year?

I was just in Wales and north of the UK. My whole summer was filled with Arctic adventures. I was in Groenland, Svalbard and Iceland. Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago above the Arctic circle. It’s the northernmost region I’ve been, about 80°north latitude.


Was it your first time visiting the Arctic?

It was my first time in Greenland, but then I went back three times. Same for Svalbard. Its been quite hectic and pretty cold for me this year, so I didn't really have time to enjoy the sun and summer. But that's fine because I don’t really enjoy the heat. 



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Can you describe what your day-to-day looked like in Groenland?

You live in a tiny cabin on a sailing boat. So, first thing in the morning, you hit your head somewhere. And it wakes you up! [laughing] You get some coffee which is the one thing I can’t live without. Then, you go outside and start looking for polar bears. Sometimes, you take a small boat to visit the icebergs and sail around the eastern coast. You also send a drone to help you navigate through the ice. 


How many were you in the team?

We were 10 people with the crew. It was a really small boat. 2 crew members, 2 photographers, 6 clients, we taught them how to take photos.


What was the most challenging part of the trip? On mental and physical levels?

It’s usually when we are out camping somewhere and it’s deep freeze temperatures. And you are sleeping in a tent, and there’s nothing you can really do about it except prepare a good sleeping bag.  It’s really challenging. You have to accept it and push yourself. I also struggle with high altitudes. So, when we climb really high mountains (not in polar regions), I always get altitude sickness. 





Why did you choose to shoot in Greenland?

Because it was hard to get there and the challenge was really appealing. I’ve been wanting to go there for the last five years. It truly exceeded my expectation, it’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to—where I could disconnect with the world and connect with nature.


Is this connection with nature something that inspires your photography?  

I’ve always enjoyed shooting in cold and rough areas, away from the crowds. I like wild and untouched landscapes. There’s something really magical when the mountains are rising from the oceans and the light hits at the right moment. You realize that you are not somewhere you can do whatever you want. Nature is ruling here. Mistakes can be costly in regions like Svalbard. It’s challenging and real which inspires and motivates me to go there and to go back. 



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Are there other photographers shooting arctic landscapes?

Yep, I am also friends with many photographers that shoot similar stuff. We share our passion and we also travel a lot together.


What do you like to capture through your lens? 

I usually try to capture a special kind of light, something unique to the Arctic and hard to reproduce anywhere else. Something that transcends the ordinary. I also just like to capture moments, it’s a way to preserve my memories of those trips. Light gets tricky, you never get golden hours in summer and winter. 


Describe the most beautiful scene you have witnessed during your trip.

I think Greenland is very special, there are massive icebergs—the size of skyscrapers that are 50-60 metres tall and a kilometre long. They are already massive and it’s mind-blowing to realize that only a small portion is above water. 



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As someone who’s travelled to the north several times over the last few years, have you seen any changes first-hand you’d attribute to climate change?

I only explored the arctic area in the last three months and it’s hard to gauge the change over a short period. But, if you listen to the stories from the local community, you know the glaciers have been retreating in the past 30 years. Some of them retreated more than a kilometre in the last 20 years. They also noticed there were fewer polar bears in the last couple of years.


What do we as a society need to know what's happening in the Arctic?

I think everybody should know that climate change is real and it’s happening. And the Arctic region is the first to be affected by it, more than any other parts of the world. Glaciers are disappearing. Polar bears are in danger. I want to spread awareness about this reality.



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Is there anything you’ve changed in response to climate change?

I stopped eating meat. And it’s been a year. 


What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment so far? 

Just being self-employed and have ownership of my own work. I have been freelancing for four years now and it’s been quite successful. 


For anyone reading this, do you have any advice on how to step out of one’s comfort zone?

It sounds really simple, but you just have to do it. If you have to make a decision, and you are unsure about it, you should follow your guts. Being a freelance photographer was the riskiest decision I have made and also the most successful. It was a pretty big jump, but I don’t regret any of it.


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