It’s possible to view Paul Souder’s portfolio of wildlife photography as a celebration of the diversity of life in some of the globe’s coldest and least accessible locations. But at the same time, it’s hard not to adopt the perspective that Souder himself suggests: as “a scrapbook of ghosts.”
“I sometimes wonder if we’re not simply creating a record of all the things that we, as a species, have destroyed,” he tells me, when asked how he views the role of the wildlife photographer in an age of climate change. Souder’s 30-plus-year career in that world has led him through Alaska, to the Antarctic four times, and to Greenland. He’s swam with walruses, gotten up-close to polar bears, and in the process his photos have been published “everywhere from the hallowed pages of National Geographic to a Mexican condom ad.”
But what the still images, removed from their historical context, don’t capture is the massive changes he’s seen unfold before his eyes. “I was crazy for glaciers when I moved [to Alaska]” in 1989 he told me, driving 60 miles to see the Portage Glacier before he even had a moment to unpack his stuff. Now when he goes back to visit, “That glacier has receded miles, out of the lake and leaving only a small vestige clinging to the mountain slopes. Not in centuries, not over the course of a human lifetime, but in less than a generation.” Other glaciers he’s gotten to know over the years “no longer even reach the sea, melting down to orphan piles of snow and ice.”
Souder’s photos ought to make you do something (but what?) about climate change. At the very least, they’ll definitely make viewers want to pack their bags for the poles, while these unique landscapes, and the wildlife they serve, still exist.