Stanford hosts the award-winning Berkeley photographer who artfully captures a planet in flux
Camille Seaman’s first trip to the arctic came “by chance.” Or, more specifically, in the form of a travel voucher.
“I gave up my seat on an oversold flight from Oakland to L.A.,” she explains, “and it was Alaska Airlines, so they gave me a free round-trip ticket to anywhere they flew. So I decided, Why not go to Alaska?”
However, Seaman didn’t go to Anchorage or Juneau, she traveled to Kotzebue to experience the Bering Strait Land Bridge and was soon “walking across the frozen ocean in the general direction of Russia”…by herself.
A descendant of the Shinnecock tribe, her current sub-zero walkabout was born out of curiosity of her people’s ancient migration. “My tribe is from the very eastern tip of Long Island in New York,” she says, “and I was curious…why did we keep walking?”
The journey had a profound effect on her, and led to a series of subsequent trips to the Arctic and Antarctica that would spark an award-winning career in photography capturing the stark beauty of the most remote sections of the planet. This week, Stanford will host Seaman for a discussion of her work, while the Palo Alto Art Center is also showcasing one of her images in their current group exhibit.
Antarctica had caught Seaman by surprise during her first visit: “It was a whole other kettle of fish. It was so extreme and overwhelming but also just so beautiful. It felt like something out of a science fiction movie, but it was so amazing that it was our planet.”
Soon she was working as the expedition photographer for science-based tourism excursions into the region. By 2007, after the United Nations acknowledged the severity of climate change, Seaman’s photography was in high demand.
Her ensuing body of work is an otherworldly collection of landscapes that conveys a portrait photography sensibility towards the vast frozen expanses of the Earth’s polar regions. Yet, if Seaman at first thought she was merely capturing the natural beauty of these places, she soon became all-too-keenly aware of the climate change implications she was witnessing. “By 2011, I was just devastated.”
Within that short period of time, she saw a tremendous change in polar landscapes. So even as her professional photography career was taking off and her images were being celebrated, the lack of urgency surrounding the severity of what she was capturing left her deeply disheartened. “I began to feel like—what’s the point?”
Seaman took a hiatus from capturing the poles and turned her attention to storm chasing photography, which she refers to as a “terrible beauty” that also has clear climate change implications. Her images of massive storm clouds developing into tornadoes over Midwestern landscapes evoke both nature’s beauty and destruction in a single frame.
Ultimately though, Seaman’s 11-year-old daughter (now a student at Stanford) convinced her to overcome her disenchantment with popular apathy and turn her camera back to the polar regions. “She told me, ‘But mom, you have to try.’”
This summer Gardner is attempting to traverse the Northwest Passage, a trip which seems to echo her initial journey along the Bering Strait Land Bridge and her ensuing interest in creating a visual chronicle of a rapidly changing planet.
“We do have to try,” she says. “I want to inspire [people]to fall in love with the planet and keep this for their children’s children’s children. …I try to inspire people to be a good ancestor.”
Camille Seaman will be speaking at Stanford on Thursday, February 28, for an event entitled, Our Sublime but Vulnerable World: The Photography of Camille Seaman
Stanford University, Rm. 200, Hewlett Teaching Center Thursday, February 28; 7:30 pm
One of Camille Seaman’s photographs is also currently featured in the group exhibition The Sheltering Sky, at the Palo Alto Art Center from January 19 to April 7. More info here.
To see more of Camille’s work or purchase prints visit www.CamilleSeaman.com
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