‘I believe that my Hasselblad was the first to have ever made it to the North Pole’ – expedition photographer Diane Tuft.
In most cases when you want to track down a photographer you can aim for a portrait or commercial studio; a wedding venue; a catwalk; a sports field or perhaps a lavender field in the south of France.
But if you’d wanted to find Diane Tuft this summer you needed to start by targeting a Russian nuclear ice breaker vessel in the Arctic Ocean.
As a small child Diane always found comfort in the countryside around her home in East Hartford, Connecticut. ‘That was my playground’ she says.
An obsessive love of nature led to science study and the acquisition of a mathematics degree at the University of Connecticut. And now, as an acclaimed expedition photographer and mixed media artist, Diane employs her artistic eye and a Hasselblad lens to constantly document our ever-changing environment – and frequently in extremely remote locations.
Amongst other far-flung photo-locations over the past few years she has visited Iceland, Greenland and Antarctica. This summer she took off again to explore the effect of light on the landscape of the Arctic Ocean as part of ‘The Arctic Melt’ – a unique expedition to the North Pole.
Diane has set her own brief to explore the visual effects of ‘invisible light’, infrared and ultraviolet, on a variety of landscapes – capturing elements of these untouched landscapes with images much closer to surreal art than travel photographs.
The arguments about ozone depletion and global warming persist but Diane and her Hasselblad continue to record the effects of ultraviolet light on our landscapes with a catalogue of outstanding ‘otherworldly and thought-provoking’ images.
She tells Storyteller: ‘The Arctic Melt’ is simply a continuation of my visual exploration of the effects of climate change within a photographic documentation of Arctic landscapes. I believe the consequences of the melting of the sea ice and the retreating glaciers in the Arctic are instrumental in the changes now occurring on our planet and by combining science and art I want to bring fresh perspective on the real issues we face.”
The summer 2015 Arctic expedition began in Svalbard, Norway, located 600 nautical miles north of the northernmost Norwegian coast.
Says Diane: “I spent three full days in Longyearbyen (the largest settlement and administrative centre of Svalbard), flying above glaciers, mountains, valleys and fjords – and my Hasselblad H5D with a 210mm lens was ideal for capturing even the tiniest snowflake from 200 feet above. This camera wasn’t just highly portable; it was easy to use as I adjusted my white balance.
By keeping my shutter speed on 1/800 sec my images were all sharp and in focus – and thanks to the Hasselblad’s medium format digital back I was able to capture intricate parts of the landscape beneath me. The 210 mm lens was fabulous in recording details of both icebergs and wildlife whilst I was working on the ground, but I have to say I found the flexibility of the 50-110mm lens to be completely invaluable whenever I was in a tight situation, or when I needed a more wide-angled image.”
After Svalbard it was on to Murmansk, Russia and The North Pole.
Adds Diane: “The only way to reach The North Pole is via a Russian nuclear ice breaker. After the first day of travelling through the Kola Bay in the Barents Sea from Murmansk vessel approached the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean and for the next ten days we forged our way through various thicknesses of ice.
Most of the pictures taken during this leg were shot from either the bow or the stern of the ship. Travelling between 3 and 12 knots per hour, the ship was in a constant jerking motion, forging forward and breaking ice, retreating when it proved too difficult to break and then attempting to go forward again. Here again the portability of the H5D allowed me the opportunity to photograph the ice as it was breaking up, by leaning over the outside rail of the vessel.
When the polar bears approached the ship , I was able to capture their interesting gestures while they were in movement.
She recalls; “I couldn’t get close to the birds that were nesting on Rubini Rock, or some of the walruses – but my 210mm lens did its job and thanks to the medium format camera I was able to enlarge the images as if I were right on top of them.”
Not many humans ever get to experience the wonders of the Arctic.
Notes Diane; “We were only the 53rd surface vehicle to have ever reached the North Pole and our trip was apparently the only time anyone has ever been during summer solstice.”
She adds: “I believe my Hasselblad was the first to have ever made it to the North Pole.
Through my pictures I aim to highlight both the majestic power and the extreme austerity of nature amidst the ongoing environmental and atmospheric destruction that is happening on a global scale.
There were some difficult situations that occurred during this particular trip but this camera made light work of all of them and I look forward to its company on my next trip.”
*Diane has had solo exhibitions of her work at Marlborough gallery, Ameringer-Yohe Gallery and Pace Gallery, New York City, and at The Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah.
Her work has been included in many museums across the US and examples can be found in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the International Center of Photography in New York City; the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill NY and numerous private collections.
Diane also participates in public forums on art and science that are specifically related to global warming, ozone depletion and the infrared and ultraviolet light spectra.