The meeting of a (semi) amateur photographer on his way to the Arctic: twenty bears “occupy” the disused weather station of Kolyuchin, in Siberia. A postcard from the future?
That on the island of Kolyuchin, an extreme Siberian offshoot with Alaska on the horizon, was a meteorological station. Built by Soviet Russia in the autonomous district of Chukotka, closed in 1992. From there today, in fact, a weather report of our time arrives: polar bears take refuge in the houses of the uninhabited village around the station; barrels of oil lie here and there; there is no snowflake. Thus, looking out of doors and windows as in an apocalyptic version of the Ricciolidoro’s tale, polar bears appeared to amateur photographer Dmitry Kokh «months ago, and I never stop seeing them in dreams». For many years, Kokh al Courier service, «I wanted to photograph polar bears. I have long been an animal photographer but only as a hobby. I work as an IT entrepreneur: I have ninety employees. But then nature took its place in my life, more and more ». Just like in Kolyuchin.
August 2021, Kokh sets out on a small yacht on an expedition northward that has been scheduled for more than two years. The goal is to finally photograph polar bears, «elusive and mysterious. I had met them before, but I had never taken good photos. It was as if they evaded the target ». The yacht heads all the way to the northeast, towards Wrangel Island. Remote, inaccessible to humans, it is ideal for mothers who give birth and breastfeed their young. The expedition runs along the Arctic Russia for two thousand kilometers, «a parallel continent: the landscape was constantly changing, sunny beaches and cliffs, depths and tundra, hundreds of species of birds, whales, killer whales, brown bears. A sea full of life ». The Chukchi Sea, which is part of the Arctic Ocean, divides Russia from Alaska. The easternmost point of Russia and the entire Asian mainland, Cape Dezhnev, is a sign for Kokh and him «that there is something strange in the climate. We start meeting there blocks of ice; we didn’t expect them much further north ». Then a storm, which forces the yacht to get closer to Kolyuchin. It’s not safe to dock there either. Someone takes out a pair of binoculars and points them at the island.
And here are the bears. “They stayed there because in some summers the blocks of ice they use as rafts, we don’t know why, stay close to the shore, and don’t float north,” explains Kokh. «I filmed the bears with a little noisy drone; I used some tricks that reduced the buzz, so as not to scare them. ‘ The photos return a cartoon life: mothers with cubs keep away from it, but «male and young bears continually explore the houses, because they are very curious. It was as if they were taking back their space, a space that we humans had stolen from them ». And bears “taking back” uninhabited homes seem like a prophecy: when we say that global warming threatens to wipe out life on the planet, we mean (above all) ours.