Video hosting website Vimeo has awarded Ghosts of the Arctic front page status with a coveted and very hard to achieve ‘Staff Pick’ Award.
The UK Daily Mail has just published an online essay with many behind the scenes photographs and excerpts from the making of my new short film Ghosts of the Arctic.
Time has raced past and I now find myself about to head back to the airport in a couple of hours time for the long haul flights up to Norway and then onto Svalbard at 78º North for my summer Polar Bear expedition. Svalbard has become one my absolute favourite places in the world to visit and photograph and I find myself yearning to return whenever I have to leave and itching to get underway whenever an opportunity to visit or a new expedition approaches. There is something about the primordial landscape and environment in this region of the Arctic that I find incredibly haunting. It is a landscape that speaks to me on many levels and is now a place I consider very much my home away from home. I simply cannot wait to return.
I am packing a little bit differently to previous expeditions I have lead to Svalbard in recent years. For the first time I am taking an underwater housing with me (along with a custom made pole-cam system). It is my hope that there will be opportunities to photograph Walrus (and Polar Bears) with the system at some point during the expedition (although you never know as every expedition is different). The underwater housing requires its own dedicated and somewhat large pelican case (which has to be checked) so this has cut down somewhat on the amount of other equipment I would normally pack on this sort of expedition. Where as I have in the past packed both my 600mm F4L MKII as well as the 200-400mm F4L; this time I will take only the 200-400mm and will leave the bulkier 600mm F4L MKII at home.
Gura Gear Bataflae 32L Camera Bag (Carry on Luggage)
Today I am extremely excited and proud to be releasing my new short film – Ghosts of the Arctic. The product of more than two years of planning Ghosts of the Arctic was filmed exclusively in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard in the depths of Winter. It is my hope that the film will impart some of the haunting beauty of this incredibly precious and endangered polar wilderness; as well as give you some insight into my life as a Polar photographer. I hope you will take six minutes out of your day, set your display to full screen, turn off the lights, crank up the volume, and allow Ghosts of the Arctic to transport you away to one of the world’s most spectacular polar regions; in it’s rarely seen winter veil. Please Enjoy.My most sincere thanks to both Abraham Joffe and Dom West from Untitled Film Works who worked tirelessly for a week straight putting in eighteen hour days in freezing temperatures to shoot and produce this film. My thanks and gratitude also to my friend Frede Lamo who likewise worked tirelessly with good humour and whose assistance with expedition logistics simply made the impossible, possible. Without the dedication of this team this film would simply not have been possible.
It would be remiss of me not to also provide a little insight into what it was like to make this short film. During the Winter shoot we experienced temperatures that were never warmer than -20ºC and frequently plummeted down as low as -30ºC + wind chill factor. We were exposed to the cold and elements for up to sixteen straight hours a day. Many days we drove over two hundred kilometres on our snow mobiles in very difficult terrain and conditions as we searched for wildlife. The bumpy terrain left us battered, bruised and sore. We experienced three cases of first and second degree frostbite during the filming as well as a lot of failed equipment and equipment difficulties as a result of the extreme cold. We had batteries that would loose their charge in mere minutes, drones that wouldn’t power up and fly, cameras that wouldn’t turn on, steady-cams that would not remain steady, HDMI cables that became brittle and snapped in the cold, frozen audio equipment, broken LCD mounts, broken down snow mobiles and more. We existed on a diet of freeze dried cod and pasta washed down with tepid coffee and the occasional frozen mars bar.
It is hard to put the experience into words, but just the simple act of removing ones gloves to change a memory card in these sort of temperatures when you are exposed and exhausted comes with a serious risk of frostbite. In my own case, I removed my face covering for one three minute take and suffered frostbite (from which I have not fully recovered) across the right hand side of my face. And whilst not all of this will come across in the film, I think I can safely say it was without any shadow of a doubt the toughest film shoot any of us have done.
For the technically inclined: Ghosts of the Arctic was shot in the 2.35:1 cinema ratio in true 4K High Definition with Canon, RED, Sony and DJI 4K High Definition camera systems.
Absolutely no wildlife was interfered with in any way shape or form during the filming and everything you see is totally natural behaviour. Fine Art Prints from the still image photographs from Ghosts of the Arctic are available upon request.
I am extremely pleased and excited to announce today that Melrakki; my book on the Arctic fox is now available for order as an open edition soft-cover (the Limited Edition is Sold Out). The culmination of three years of winter photography in the extreme north-west of Iceland, Melrakki is available for order online now. And to celebrate the first ten orders will also include an original 11″ x 09″ inch fine-art pigment on paper print. The included fine-art pigment-on-paper print is printed on Moab Somerset Museum Rag 300gsm paper and is hand signed.
With foreword by pre-eminent scientist and Arctic fox expert Dr. Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir, Melrakki includes over fifty photographs and field notes from the three years spent photographing this remarkable predator in the extreme north-west of Iceland.
Melrakki Open Edition is printed in Australia using the highest possible quality Indego printer system and is printed on High Definition Lustre paper that fully captures all of the incredible colour and tones of the original photographs. I am also extremely proud to have been able to print this open edition in Australia and to be able to offer it at such a competitive price.
I hope that you enjoy the photographs, insights and field notes from this project into the frozen world of Melrakki – the Arctic fox.
Photographs and Text by Joshua Holko
Approximate Dimensions: 22cm x 30 cm
96 pages (over 50 photographs + field notes)
It has been more than two months now since my South Island New Zealand masterclass workshop and I have been a little remiss in writing up my trip report. Extensive travels and life have conspired against me and it has taken far longer than I would have liked to complete the report (I still have only processed a couple of images from the workshop and I am heading overseas again in just two weeks – Up to Svalbard for my Polar Bear summer expedition).Rather than give a day-by-day account of the trip this time (as I have done in the past) I felt it better to instead talk a bit about a typical day and what it is that we do other than take photographs during this sort of masterclass workshop. Whilst the physical act of photography is at the core of this workshop it is important impart that there is a lot more going on that just the act of setting up a tripod and pressing the shutter in great locations and beautiful light. In fact, I believe that some of the best learning that comes from these workshops actually happens away from the camera during meal time discussions.
A typical day on my New Zealand masterclass workshop usually kicks off extremely early with a pre-sunrise call to action to try and capture some of the best light of the day. Typically, in my experience sunrise is my preferred time to photograph and I find (at least for my own style of photography) that the conditions are usually at their optimum just before the sun rises. Depending on the location we may have some driving and or/walking to arrive at our sunrise session. Typically we have chosen to stay close by to minimise early morning travel and maximise photography time. We also use helicopters extensively in New Zealand to access back country areas and high mountain areas that would otherwise take many hours (if not days) of hiking to reach. On mornings where we are using helicopters we often run two choppers so that we can move our small group of eight (including myself and my co-leader) simultaneously into position. This way we all arrive at the same time and all experience the best light and conditions. There is a fantastic benefit of helicopters (outside of saving hours of hiking) and that is we can land just about anywhere in the high country and this provides incredibly unique opportunities. A key feature of this trip is to experience and photograph some of the most spectacular landscape that is all but inaccessible without helicopters. In addition, it provides an opportunity to photograph landscape that is not only rarely photographed, but also rarely visited. Iconic easy to reach locations can be fun, but it’s equally important to have opportunities in new areas that few others will ever experience.
Depending on the conditions we experience on our early morning shooting session we may be out for anywhere from a couple of hours too a session that might run close into lunchtime. We work with the weather and light we experience and if conditions are ideal we do not shut down until we have made the best of the them.Whilst we are photographing myself and Phillip (my co-leader) like to work with each of the participants on an individual basis as required. We help with everything from basic camera settings to filters, composition, focal length choice etc… Often, we wont even set up our own cameras until such time as everyone is well and truly up and running with many photographs ‘in the can’.
With the morning session complete we wrap for a hot cooked breakfast or brunch with coffee and tea at one of New Zealand’s many great cafe’s. This is a time for us to not only enjoy some great food after a solid mornings work, but also to reflect on our mornings photography, discuss the conditions and location and reflect on what we felt worked and perhaps did not work for each of us. Typically there is quite a bit of ‘gear-talk’, but importantly there is also a lot of discussion about composition and the art of seeing photographs beyond the obvious. Depending on where we are located at a given point in time in the South Island we may have some down time after breakfast / brunch to either download and work on our photographs or we may have some transit time to our next location. The key to our daily program is to try and maximise our photography in as many great locations as possible so in some areas we spend multiple days whilst in others we may only have one day before moving on.
After lunch (and a lot more photography talk!) we have an afternoons photography session. Our afternoon session locations are always chosen based on prevailing weather, conditions and light. Since our aim is to be photographing in the best light of the day in the best locations we are constantly assessing the weather and light and making location choices to maximise our opportunities. Local knowledge is absolutely critical to the success of this approach. Much like Iceland, the South Island of New Zealand is a land of micro climates and local knowledge goes a long way to being able to take advantage of prevailing weather and light. On this particular masterclass we made a decision at one point to head up to location in Lindas pass where we new we could capture some stunning landscape in afternoon breaking light; whilst it was raining either side of the pass. This proved a very fruitful decision and some stunning images were captured by all.
If weather and light permit we will stay out in the field (although we often move locations) right through until sunset and last light. We don’t rush from location to location, but rather try and maximise the opportunities in a given location before we move on to a new area. If we are working with aerial photography from helicopters over the mountains and glaciers of the Southern Alps we will wait until we feel the light is at its absolute optimum before spending time with the doors off over some of the most spectacular scenery in the southern hemisphere. We work with experienced pilots with whom we have built a relationship over many years so that we can position our helicopters exactly where we want to capture stunning landscapes in superb light. Everyone gets a doors off position to photograph whilst Philip and I direct the pilot on where and how we want the helicopter positioned. These sort of high mountain photographs cannot be achieved any other way.
With our afternoon and evening photography session complete its time for some more wonderful New Zealand food at one of the many fantastic restaurants around the island. We work hard on these masterclass workshops so the meals and quality of food is really important to us. We play as hard as we work! Our dinner conversations can revolve around everything from the days photography to discussions on composition, the art of seeing, post production and more. The key take away for me is that these sort of discussions almost always serve to educate and I never stop learning myself from those around me.
For those that wish there is evening time post dinner to edit and process images from the days photography before a good nights sleep and onto another busy packed day.
The workshops are always jam packed with photography and provide an outstanding vehicle for sharing and learning. Our workshop this year was blessed with great weather and some superb light and it was an absolute pleasure to share it with all of those who participated.