Melting Away, a new book documenting 10 years of disappearing ice at both poles, began partly by chance when photographer Camille Seaman happened to get a free ticket from an oversold flight on Alaska Airlines.
“I had no ambition or desire to ever go anyplace cold–part of the reason I moved from New York was to escape extreme winters,” says Seaman. “But I had this free ticket. Because I come from a small [Native American] fishing tribe, I was curious about the idea that we had migrated over the Bering land bridge. I wanted to sort of do a reverse commute.”
The experience made a deep impression. “Walking across the frozen sea, it was the first time I understood that I was standing on my rock in space, and that I was a part of the planet,” she says. She ended up traveling back to the North Pole with her family, and later to the Antarctic. Eventually–also through a series of coincidences–she ended up with a job as an expedition photographer and spent years traveling between the poles.
Her first trip was in 1999, and Seaman hadn’t yet learned about climate change. But she quickly saw its effects. “Every year, going back to some of the same spots, I started to see very dramatic change,” she says. “I just couldn’t believe it was happening literally right before my eyes, so quickly.”
The photos in the new book focus on the beauty of the ice, rather than deliberately telling the story of climate change. “I don’t ever want to be a fear-monger,” Seaman says. “I think it’s too easy to throw your arms up in despair and say there’s nothing we can do. So I always aim for beauty and awe. I think that people have to feel an emotion and have to kind of fall in love with our planet if we want to stay here.”
She hopes that the book inspires readers to feel some of the same connection that she felt when she first walked on the ice–and to think about how to better take care of the planet.
“I think about the future a lot, and how do we want ourselves to be defined as humans,” she says. “Are we the species that goes from planet to planet and just uses up all the resources and then moves to another–are we going to be that alien? Or do we somehow acknowledge our integral connection to this place we call home? Which way do we want this to go?”