Polar Careers: Every Picture Tells a Story

“My 3-year old daughter and I were looking at a globe today. She says, 'I want to go to this island daddy.'  Her finger was on Greenland."  --- A proud Tweet from photographer, Chris Linder

Seattle-based photographer Chris Linder grew up in southeastern Wisconsin, which is to say he’s no stranger to snow and sub-zero temperatures, a good thing considering he makes his living, in part, by photographing polar scientists in the field.

‘I was a geeky kid in high school and still am,” Linder wrote on the Polar Discovery website. “I love learning new things and wish I could stay in school my whole life.’

Linder first took up photography as a hobby during the two years he spent in Spain as a naval officer following graduation from the United States Naval Academy and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)/Massachusetts Institute of Technology joint Masters graduate program in Ocean Engineering. After completing his stint abroad, Linder returned to the States as a civilian and returned to WHOI as a research technician.

While in graduate school, Linder went on his first scientific cruise with Bob Pickart (WHOI) to the Irminger Sea, east of Greenland, as a watchstander. When not taking water samples from a CTD rosette, on watch, or doing work on deck, he took pictures of other people doing science. His photographs were impressive—so much so that WHOI scientists invited Linder along on the Edge of the Arctic Shelf cruise just to photograph and handle project outreach.

Linder’s largest project while at WHOI was as project manager and expedition photographer for the NSF-funded Live from the Poles project which documented polar science during the International Polar Year on the project’s Polar Discovery website. Between 2007 and 2009, Linder worked with science writers Mike Carlowicz, Lonny Lippsett, Hugh Powell, Amy Nevala, and Helen Fields to create photo essays while participating in five WHOI field expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic.

In daily web dispatches, which included audio, video, and still photography, Linder’s media team explained complicated science concepts and field methodology. Linder also set up the Live Talk schedule partnering with nine U.S. museums to facilitate interaction between a scientist in the field and a museum audience via satellite phone.

“Field science is fun and exciting and it’s my job to show this through photography. My goals are to educate, inspire, and communicate.”

Linder relocated to the west coast with his wife and young daughter in 2009, where Linder began what has proved to be a very busy freelancing career. Since that first cruise, he has spent more than a year of his life at sea; more than half of that time has been in the Arctic working for scientists on a total of 11 arctic projects (6 of these ship-based). Now bipolar (in that he’s been to Antarctica twice), he has made photographing field research his specialty.

Ships remain his favorite venue for documenting field science, but Linder is branching out both in terms of venue and medium. These days he’s a mainstay with the Polaris Project, a National Science Foundation-funded summer field course in arctic system science for undergraduates headed by Max Holmes (WHRC). Each summer the group spends four weeks at the Northeast Science Station in Cherskiy, Siberia.

Linder documents field work, and mentors a university student who is interested in science journalism. Last summer, he and Western Washington University student Max Wilbert took more than 50,000 photos. The two are currently developing multimedia segments on student projects using stills, video, and audio, which will support the Polaris Project website.

Linder has also been increasingly involved in a number of nature and travel groups. He was recently named Associate Member of the prestigious International League of Conservation Photographers. The ILCP brings awareness to environmental and conservation issues through the pro bono collaborative efforts of specialized field teams who produce multimedia ‘portraits’ through RAVEs (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition). The grass roots organization seeks to document ecosystems while informing the public.

Linder’s photographs have been featured in a number of museum exhibits including the Field and the Smithsonian Museums. Linder’s first book, The Photographer's Guide to Cape Cod and the Islands came out in 2007. His second, entitled Science on Ice, is due in stores by fall of 2011.

When not photographing his new baby boy, Linder teaches photography workshops and gives presentations about his work and expeditions. Thirty-five of Linder’s Adelie penguin photographs are featured currently in an exhibit at the Massachusetts Audubon Visual Arts Center through January, 2011, at which time, he’ll head to Antarctica a third time to work with scientists from Rutgers University and the University of Hawaii aboard the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer. --Marcy Davis

You can check out Chris Linder’s work at chrislinder.com