Camille Seaman does very little research before taking her journeys—she just goes, usually with no idea of what to expect. Her first trip to “the ice,” as she calls it, was a serendipitous one.
In 1999, she agreed to give up her seat on an overbooked flight in exchange for a free ticket anywhere on Alaska Airlines. When she arrived in Alaska, in the early spring of 2000, the temperature was thirty degrees below zero, and the airline had lost her luggage. Outfitted by local indigenous women in the airport, she set off walking toward the sea ice into white oblivion. Within an hour of her arrival in Kotzebue, word had spread throughout the tiny
community of the woman who had lost her luggage and was walking to the ice.
A couple approached her on a snowmobile to inform her that her destination, the edge of the Bering Sea, was at least twenty-two miles away. She didn’t make it to the sea that day, but that walk put her on a new path. Not yet a professional photographer, Seaman began to contact photographers whose work she greatly admired and ask them a lot of questions.
In 2004, she traveled to Tibet with photojournalist Steve McCurry, who is best known for his iconic image of the Afghan girl that appeared on the cover of National Geographic. McCurry impressed upon her the importance of light and light quality in portraiture, which led to a significant breakthrough in her work.
After returning from Tibet, Seaman and her family took a trip to Antarctica to take photographs. There had been innumerable opportunities to make portraits in Tibet, but in Antarctica there were no people to photograph. Out of necessity, Seaman completely shifted her strategy. She decided to “photograph everything as if it’s a person. It didn’t matter whether it was a hut, a rock, a penguin, or an iceberg.”
One of the most striking aspects of Seaman’s iceberg series is the unusual color palette in which her subjects are rendered—a smoky gray and steely blue reminiscent of seventeenth-century Flemish oil paintings. Seaman clearly doesn’t experience icebergs as white.
Although Seaman’s images are aesthetically beautiful, they do not read as merely sculptural or architectural; her forms are more stirring. Drawing on her skill as a portrait photographer, she works with the extraordinary Antarctic light in her attempts to capture the icebergs as living matter. When I pressed Seaman for more on her point of view, she told me, “What is the point of just showing you what I saw? I want you to feel what I saw. Emotion is as important to me as the physical representation.”
The photographs are beautiful historical portraits. It is Seaman’s intention to honor the icebergs’ existence as elders. They do not fill up the frame as powerful, indestructible objects. In fact, many of the icebergs in Seaman’s photographs no longer exist. She would like viewers to understand that although icebergs are very old and complex formations, they start out as water and they return to water. As the artist notes, “I have snuck in this teaching that everything is interconnected, that everything is alive.”