I met Chris Linder in 2013 in Punta Arenas, a small city located at the very southern-most tip of Chile. It was the night before we crossed the infamous rough water passage of the Drake to start our research expedition to better understand climate change in Antarctica. I had an inkling that he was part of the outreach team that was going to be filming our expedition for a documentary (www.beyondtheice.com
) so I already tagged him as one I wanted to get to know. I envy his talent and expertise in documenting science and making it a visual phenomenon!
Here are a few excerpts that Chris was willing to share with MO BIO and our followers. Thanks for being so cool Chris!
How did you become a science photographer?
When I started working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) fourteen years ago as a research associate, I was also an avid amateur photographer. My first oceanography cruise for WHOI, in the summer of 2001, was a month aboard the research vessel Oceanus studying the waters east of Greenland. As a science watchstander, my job was to wrangle instruments over the side of the ship and plot the resulting data.
When I wasn’t on watch, I indulged my passion for photography. But it wasn’t the photographs of pilot whales and icebergs that caught the Chief Scientist’s eye—it was the photographs of people working aboard the ship. I captured candid moments of people working on deck, analyzing water samples, and playing cards. When I returned home from the expedition, the photographs were used in calendars, annual reports, and presentations.
In the following fourteen years, my career gradually transitioned from doing science to documenting it. To date, I have photographed 37 scientific expeditions, including 21 to the polar regions. Four of those expeditions are featured in my recent book Science on Ice: Four Polar Expeditions.
Quote from Science on Ice Chapter 1
Adélie Penguins: Life at the Edge of Possibility written by Hugh Powell
“From a helicopter 500 feet off the deck, the penguins are too small to see. All that stands against the whiteness of Antarctica are long rolls of volcanic rock, sliced with fissures like loaves of pumpernickel. This is Ross Island, the most southerly beach in the world, wedged into the south end of frozen McMurdo Sound. Even now, on December, 2007—midsummer—the sound is frozen stiff as pressed linen, flat and white all the way to the peaks on the western horizon.
Beige guano stains on Cape Royds’ black slopes are the first reminder that penguins are down there. Next the penguins pop out; they’re the dark specks like poppyseeds among the rocks, and the dotted lines stringing northward over the ice to open water.
The helicopter tilts left toward the landing spot and the sun bears down through the starboard window. Two tents come into view: A long semicircular Rac-Tent like a diminutive Quonset hut, and a yolk-yellow Scott tent shaped like a pyramid, just big enough for two people to lie down in. Outside the Rac-tent, facing south, is a solar array. A wireless dish points at McMurdo Station, chattering at the Internet. Next to it, in the lee of the tent, are two orange 55-gallon drums, for wastewater, and a bucket with a toilet seat on it. This is the research station of penguin biologist David Ainley, where he has lived every summer for the last 12 years.”
How does the scientific community benefit from visual arts like yours?
Scientists are expected to communicate their findings to fellow scientists through peer-reviewed journal articles and conferences. As they progress in their careers, they develop a technical language that allows them to communicate among themselves quickly. The unavoidable drawback to this approach is that the lay public loses touch with both science and scientists. That’s where I come in. As a former scientist, I understand the jargon. But I have also developed the skills to translate science into visual stories. Every time I go on a science expedition, I think: everybody should have a chance to experience this! That is why I have dedicated my life to telling science stories.
Scientists are my heroes, and I want them to be yours too.
Chris Linder biography:
Chris Linder (http://www.chrislinder.com)
is a professional photographer, filmmaker, and lecturer. Chris holds a Master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. His images have appeared in museums, books, calendars, and international magazines, including Smithsoni
an, Canadian Geographic, Nature’s Best, Outdoor Photographer, and Wired. He is the author of the book Science on Ice: Four Polar Expeditions (University of Chicago Press, 2011) (http://www.scienceonice.com) and has been recognized with awards from the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards, and International Conservation Photography Awards competitions. Chris is a Senior Fellow in the International League of Conservation Photographers.
For a limited time, get Science on Ice for $17 from the University of Chicago Press! Click here
, then enter catalog code AD9978 and look for book number 342.