Pro Style Subhankar Banerjee; Revealing The Beauty Of The Arctic
in India in 1967, Subhankar Banerjee received a bachelor’s degree in electrical
engineering before moving to the US where he earned a master’s degree
in physics and computer science. He later accepted a job with Boeing in Seattle,
Washington, and became a successful scientist. So why would he switch gears
and devote himself to shooting pictures in Arctic blizzards? In his book entitled
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons Of Life And Land, Banerjee says, “The
best answer I can give is that in my life there are no straight lines.”
Banerjee’s granduncle had been a successful painter, “whose work
inspired the artist in me.” As a Sierra Club member in college, he enjoyed
hiking in the mountains of New Mexico and photographing the surrounding wilderness
with a Minolta 35mm SLR. “Art has always been a part of my life,”
During the ’90s Banerjee began entertaining the idea of leaving the sciences
and becoming a photographer, with the goal of documenting endangered landscapes
and habitats. Some of his friends suggested that he visit the Arctic Wildlife
Refuge in Alaska, and he gave the idea serious consideration. “In the
year 2000, I planned the project, and in 2001 I went to the Arctic,” he
says. He quit his job at Boeing, cashed in his life savings and went to Alaska
to document the land, wildlife and native people. Led by Inupiat guide Robert
Thompson, Banerjee traveled thousands of miles on foot, raft and snowmobile,
and lived with native families along the way.
his 14 month photographing the Arctic Refuge, Banerjee experienced
subzero temperatures and raging blizzards. This harsh environment
is also full of beauty, as seen in this shot of the Aurora Borealis.
All photos by Subhankar Banerjee
“I had seen documentation from photographers who went to the Arctic
Refuge during the summer,” he says. “I photographed this area during
the winter to begin with. During the first year, I worked in a rather journalistic
bent. The second year, I knew more about what I wanted to do.”
documentation of the Arctic wildlife included capturing the migration
of the many caribou and birds that flock to the refuge yearly.
He photographed migration of caribou, birds that flock to the refuge from
various continents, plants, and native people in
an impressive array of images that he describes as “A holistic documentation
of wildlife, landscape and culture.” In total, Banerjee spent 14 months
over a two-year period photographing the Arctic Refuge. During this time he
experienced subzero temperatures and several blizzards.
“Weather-wise, it’s a very harsh environment,” he asserts.
“It’s nine months of winter, often with 60–70 mph winds.”
Arctic Refuge experiences nine months of winter; often with very
heavy winds. Shooting under these conditions requires careful
preparation to protect yourself and your gear from the harsh elements.
Not Just A Frozen Wasteland
Banerjee returned to the US briefly in 2001 to raise money for his project and
he received sponsorship from Blue Earth Alliance. He also received the first
Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Fellowship in 2003, which was established
to “recognize leadership on behalf of world cultural freedom by promoting
cultural diversity and strengthening cultural traditions and ties.” In
2003, Mountaineers Books in Seattle published his photographic journey in Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons Of Life And Land. His images are paired with
essays by prominent writers, conservationists, and biologists. Former President
Jimmy Carter wrote the book’s foreword.
In March of that year, when the Senate debated an oil drilling issue in the
Arctic Refuge, California Senator Barbara Boxer used Banerjee’s book as
evidence that this region was more than a “flat, white nothingness.”
(The Senate later voted 52 to 48 against drilling.) Nonetheless, Banerjee reports
that, “The fight is still continuing. My main goal is that, as an artist,
I can present my work and voters can make an informed choice.”
from being a “flat, white nothingness,” the Arctic
Refuge includes spectacular sites like the Romanzoff mountains.