Imagine a glacier cave—the light shimmering off the glass-like shapes and structures, reflecting every shade and combination of blue, green, white, black. There’s silence except for the hollow sound of water dripping. Then click! Click! A camera’s shutter opens and closes, capturing the surrounding beauty.
Eric Guth is a Portland-based adventure photographer who has spent years doing just this—photographing gorgeous places on our planet few people have the chance to see and experience.
A Little Nudge From Mom
Guth didn’t plan to be a professional photographer. It all started when his mom, a photographer in college, passed down her camera equipment when he was in high school and he took up the hobby. During college, Guth took a break from photography, but once he graduated and started traveling, he found that picking up the camera and snapping photos was the best way to remember his experiences.
“The older I get the more I realize I like photography. For me it’s like a visual journal,” he says. “I don’t have the best memory in the world and I don’t often keep a journal when I travel, because I travel a lot. But I can go back to pictures and remember the place, emotions, everything about it. So I love that part of it.”
The Mendenhall Glacier Caves
Since college he’s literally traveled the world, from the bottom of the earth to the very top and dozens of places in between like Mexico, Germany, the Pacific Northwest’s Snake River and others.
As a photographer and photo instructor on adventure and research cruise ships, he’s had the opportunity to photograph areas of Arctic Canada, Greenland and Norway. Seven years ago, just after finishing his first cruise ship expedition, Guth began exploring the network of caves under the Mendenhall Glacier just outside of Juneau, Alaska. And what he saw amazed him.
“Someone recommended I go see Mendenhall Glacier, which I did. A somewhat less-used trail leads to the edge of the glacier where most people get on top and walk around. But I saw a number of cracks along the edge of the glacier front,” he describes. “I poked my head in and what I saw amazed me. One of the first caves I went in to is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen to this day.”
Since then he’s returned to Mendenhall to capture more photographs. Guth has also photographed remarkable glacier caves beneath Patagonia’s Viedma Glacier in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentina.
Scroll through Guth’s online photo gallery and one will notice ice makes a frequent and haunting appearance. From icy glaciers to floating sea ice and icebergs, Guth has captured a wide variety of icy forms.
“The most interesting thing to me about ice and ice structures is the fact that they’re not permanent. They are beautiful and ephemeral in a lot of ways. They are not going to be there forever—nothing is—so you can come back a week or two weeks later and everything has changed,” Guth said.
The Weather Factor
Being a photographer in the Arctic comes with many challenges and rewards. Add taking pictures from a moving ship and things can get even more challenging and rewarding. The volatile weather patterns of the Arctic can make picture-taking tricky, but when the weather cooperates and all the conditions line up, the result is almost magical.
“For the most part I travel there [the Arctic] in the northern hemisphere’s summer, so the weather is better than normal but it doesn’t mean there aren’t squalls coming through and other things that slow you down. And being based on a ship, fog is also a big limitation. Especially in Arctic Canada and Arctic Norway, it’s a constant battle. Photographing in that is tough, but then of course the benefit is that in between the layers—as the fog is dissipating—you can get absolutely incredible lighting.”
Arctic Wildlife Encounters
As you might guess, spending so much time in the Arctic can lead to some interesting encounters with wildlife. Guth recounts one close encounter with a polar bear.
The ship he was on had made a stop in an ice-heavy area. Soon a curious polar bear came to check out the visitors. Guth remembers seeing the bear approaching the ship from across the ice. Minutes later the animal was close enough that he could hear its heavy steps and powerful breaths.
“It put its paws right on the bow of our ship and proceeded to lick it and roll around on the ice in front of our vessel,” Guth recalls.
Photography—A Powerful Medium
For Guth, photography is a way to encourage people to see and do more. One of his favorite photographers, the late Galen Rowell, inspired him to seek out new artistic challenges; and Guth hopes his art will inspire others to do the same.
“I like to get to places—like inside glacier caves—that give people a sense of excitement or an adrenaline rush because it’s something they haven’t seen before.
To learn more about Eric Guth and see his work, visit http://www.photoguth.com/.