In the second of our special reports from Arctic Norway, correspondent John Cumberland philosophises about philosophy in a philosophical manner.
Location: Still in Svalbard, still August ’11
Floating about in the Zodiac, before Pete’s ‘cold shower’ moment, I was deeply moved by the pinky – brownie – diffused – ethereal light, which softly bathed the nearby icebergs. The serenity, the calm green water, the rich brown hills overlooking the enormous fjord, the crisp stripes of mist which wreathed around and in between them, the shafts of pale golden light sneaking between the peaks, our home, the M/S Origo, conveniently moored at the ‘golden mean’ for a perfectly composed shot. It was a landscape photographer’s heaven.
“This is an excellent landscape workshop” I commented to Pete. In a miffed tone he snapped: “This is a wildlife trip, we start landscapes in the autumn,” (it had been a while since we saw our last polar bear; he was tetchy). Now, we all love Glen Affric in its autumn finery, there is no doubt that it is a beautiful place, but this landscape, rather, icescape, is something else.
Pete twitched. “Fast starboard” he assertively instructed Captain Dan, our Zodiac driver. “Now slow, very slow”. We all strained to see what he was focused on. All I could see were kittiwakes. Now I like kittiwakes as much as the next man but they were hardly cause for the intense concentration that Pete was now displaying. He reached over the side (no, not yet, that was later) and promptly plucked a dead gannet from the water, holding it up triumphantly. It has to be said that it was a healthy-looking dead gannet, but definitely dead. You could tell. Yes, nice but dead.
“It’s a visual metaphor for life and death in the Arctic” said a philosophical Pete. “You should photograph it with its head pointing towards the hills.” (The word ‘metaphor’ was heard several times during this trip. I think it is part of the ‘Philosophy Module’, which comes free with Northshots photo-tours. Excellent value!)
I think by this time we’d spent too long at sea. As various members of our team leaned precariously over the side composing the dead gannet shot, Swedish Captain Dan (not a man renowned for his humour) piped up. “It reminds me of the Monty Python dead parrot sketch”. We all looked at Dan, then at each other.
‘Why is it here?’ asked one of our team.
‘It came here to commit suicide’ said an authoritative Captain Dan, even more surprisingly. Again, we looked at each other and pondered.
We saw what he was getting at. After all, it was a ‘Scandinavian Gannet’ and they do that kind of thing in Scandinavia, don’t they? It’s the long, dark winters. S.A.D. syndrome they call it…and too much Schnapps. They commit suicide. And so do their gannets.
We returned to the Origo with dead gannet pictures in the can. Pete was happy we’d seen the potential in a sopping wet dead bird, Dan was satisfied that his suspicions of our madness had been confirmed and we all enjoyed coffee and chocolate brownies. The gannet had not died in vain.
This was John Cumberland, Northshots News, The Arctic. Again.