Story behind the picture

STORY #1. 'GLACIER SWIM'. ANTARCTICA 2017.

As expedition photographer for the Lewis Pugh Foundation and UN Environment, I hopped on a military plane from an RAF base in Oxford to the Falklands, where I joined the rest of the team, consisting of medics, rescue paddlers, writers, videographers, and drone operators. We were all there to support Lewis Pugh, the former Cambridge lawyer and SAS soldier who turned adventure swimmer and climate activist a decade ago. Today, Lewis hangs out with guys like Desmond Tutu and Al Gore, and have the ears of world leaders when it comes to passing legislation and creating Marine Protective Areas (MPA’s). This time, we were heading down toward the Antarctic peninsula, for yet an epic long distance swim by Lewis - and I was in charge of capturing the whole thing. 

   Heading into the cold, we got to explore the intense biodiversity hotspot of South Georgia before our ship took us further south - passing Elephant Island and Deception Island. Names carved out of boyhood fantasy. The journey would take three weeks, until we all felt ’this is it’ on that frosty morning - surrounded by icebergs and glaciers, draped in a color spectrum ranging from black to blue. We got into our zodiacs to scout the perfect location for the swim, and made a couple of dry runs - getting ready. We all knew, that when Lewis gets in the water, there are no re-takes. One opportunity, that’s it. Rescue paddlers Dawid and Peter worked as stand-in subjects for me, as I directed the zodiac driver toward perfect speed and distance - while steadying my own balance, gripping my camera, assessing light, focus and settings. With snow in the air, and Lewis slowly shedding layers, getting ready - we were good to go. 

   The second zodiac made a brief landing on the tounge of the steep glacier, and Lewis climbed ashore wearing nothing but speedos, cap, and determination. It took him a few minutes to reach the highest part of the near calving ice and eagerly, he awaited our signal to dive in. The sea, the snow and the humming motor of the zodiac made communication a challenge and we were shouting back and forth. ’ARE YOU READY?’, Lewis barked at me while I was making my final adjustments. I was ready. But Lewis apparantly did not get satisfactory visual confirmation of this by looking at me - as I with my head down seemed to fiddle with my settings instead of aiming my attention at him. Fun fact here is that my camera is equipped with an LCD screen which I tilt up toward me - so that I appear to look down like an old school Hasselblad. Imagine the frustration growing in this SAS maniac on the frozen cliff, about to take a plunge into zero degree water only wearing a few grams of polyester - and the god damn Swedish photographer is still fucking around with his camera. ’ARE YOU READY?’, Lewis yells again, his words echoing with rage. ’YES, GO GO GO’, I holler back, my head still fixated down instead of up toward him. Confusion was at its peak, as I re-inforced my instructions the loudest I could ’GO, LEWIS, GO’. He must have said, fuck it, and then he went for it. 

   Once in the water, he swiftly got his strokes going and now he was on the clock. Any normal person would last maybe a minute, before sinking like a stone to a deep dark grave. Unless you get taken by a leopard seal in the process. Lewis sets his limit to 20 minutes. My zodiac also finds its pace, and I am 100% in the moment, only seeing Lewis through my lens as I expose frame by frame, following the rhytm of the swim. When our window close, Lewis need get out of the water, wrapped in thermal blankets and rushed to the ship for a 45 minute boiling hot shower. As his zodiac takes off, I can hear Lewis voice ripping through the snow filled air, ’OLLE, DID YOU GET IT?’. 

   My hands are clinged to the camera body, as my own zodiac returns and we board back on the main ship - and I carefully recover the memory card out of the camera into the mac, briefly holding my own breath until the first images starts to pop up on the screen. 

   Yes. I got it.


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