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Raising Awareness through Photography

Award winning photographer documents arctic expeditions

As we reported earlier, Hungarian freelance photographer and photographer of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Esther Horvath was named 1st prize winner for single photos in the Environment category for her picture 'Polar Bear and her Cub' at the 2020 World Press Photo Contest. In this month’s Diplomacy&Trade, she talks about life during the months-long expeditions to the Arctic region and the story of her award-winning photograph.

Esther Horvath, who defines herself as a photographer raising awareness for the preservation of nature, has been documenting the work of Arctic researchers since 2015.
An economist by original profession, she ended up in the cold north after being
on photo jobs all over the world. “In 2012, I went to study at the International
Center of Photography and three years later, I got my very first Arctic Ocean assignment. My job, commissioned by Audubon magazine, was to document scientific research aboard a US Coast Guard ship on which I spent two
weeks,” she tells Diplomacy&Trade. During “this beautiful and fragile environment and developed an extremely strong connection with it: for the beauty of the constantly changing landscape, the wind, the currents, the moving ice, the light of the sun. Through my photography, I want to raise awareness of this extremely fast changing environment, in fact, the fastest changing on the planet.”

Raising awareness
The photographer is very much dedicated to the cause of climate protection. “One of my main documentary collections is called ‘Icebird’. It is scientific research focusing on ice thickness in the Arctic Ocean. Over the past almost 20 years, ice thickness in the Arctic Ocean has decreased by some 30%. In the Arctic region,
the average air temperature increased 2-3 times more than anywhere else on Earth
over this period. So, all the changes caused by global warming affect this environment strongly. This is one of the things that I have been learning from the researchers during the various expeditions I have been part of.”
She says her aim is to contribute to forwarding the cause of climate protection by her own means. “It is very difficult to say but I really hope that with my work in
magazines and other publications, I have managed to raise awareness and get the
message through to people about the changes taking place in this environment.”

Expedition experience
Esther Horvath has participated in 11 expeditions to the Arctic region. Outsiders may imagine life dull and gloomy during these trips but she says each expedition is totally different. “It is hard because of the fact that we are almost totally disconnected with the outside world, which is very challenging because we have very limited possibilities to communicate. On the other hand, the nicest part of the job is that I really enjoy following the scientific work and being in an environment which is so precious and so beautiful and is so difficult to reach. Every time I go on an expedition, I am really grateful that I can be there and document the extremely important work of these scientists,” she highlights.
As a documentary photographer, Esther Horvath has been working for the best known print and online publications. She says that in her polar documentaries, she always focuses on the scientific work and the stories behind that work but also on what is life like at such remote locations. “That is what I always deliver for the
readers of the magazines and newspapers.” She says that “yes, I am an expedition photographer but I am also a photographer and photo editor for the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).” Her home is in Bremen, Germany.

Story of the award-winning photo
“Caught in the glare of Polarstern’s spotlights, a curious mother polar bear and her cub explore the MOSAiC ice camp” – that is how the AWI website describes the photo that the the World Press Photo jury deemed best among the single photos in the Environment category.
As Esther explains, “I took this picture during a one-year-long MOSAiC scientific expedition as the Polarstern icebreaker drifted through the central Arctic Ocean with scientists on board conducting scientific research, atmospheric research, oceanographic research, eco-science, research of the local ecosystem, bio geochemistry and sea ice. On October 10, 2019, I spotted that this polar bear mum
and her cub visited us at the vessel. We were all on board already. I had been asked to take pictures on the deck when I noticed the animals. I rushed to the prow of the ship and in the spotlight of the vessel, I took several pictures as the bears were sniffing around and were very curious about the flags and our ship.”
She adds that she already had the idea of taking such pictures of polar bears “in a way that shows that we are visitors in their land. They get close to us, they check us out. They are on sea ice and there are pieces of scientific equipment around. I show a full picture: sea ice, equipment (in this case, the flags) next to the ship and also the polar bears. I was very happy when this happened, I felt it was a very important photograph in my life – I felt the importance of it.”

For Esther Horvath, this award is like a dream come true. “I am extremely grateful that it happened. When I received this prize, it made me remember the journey, the hard work, which got me to this award. It brought to my mind again the very first assignment that took me to the Arctic Ocean and which completely changed my life,” she concludes.

Sándor Laczkó

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