Filming Worlds Apart

An interview with filmmaker-photographer Jason Van Bruggen

Jason van Bruggen is a self-taught photographer and filmmaker based in Canada. His lens has previously captured an incredible Adventure Canada journey through the Northwest Passage. We are thrilled to share Jason’s latest cinematic poem featuring AC staffer and author-explorer James Raffan, and caught up with him to ask some questions about his craft.


Adventure Canada: Jason, what draws you to the wilderness as a filmmaker?

Jason Van Bruggen: Our wilderness is an endlessly fascinating subject to me. Not only for its beauty, but also for the opportunities it provides us in terms of learning and reflection. As we enter an age of scarcity and climate change, these opportunities become more precarious. As a visual artist, I have a role to play in conserving wild places and encouraging an appreciation for them in others. Not only for their visual interest but for their profound importance. My passion for wilderness locations is decades old and predates my current role as a filmmaker and photographer. My current career choice was informed by a passion for wild places rather than the other way around. A fascination with intrepid travel has spanned my whole life. Growing up, I spent my summers on unsupported canoe trips in the Canadian backcountry, which is probably at the root of it. I have worked in the most remote and austere locations on the planet ranging from the Tibetan Himalaya to the deserts of Iraq, and spent time wandering around in well over a hundred countries. Wilderness travel and exploration have been profoundly formative and continue to provide me with boundless inspiration.

AC: What extra considerations does a filmmaker have to make when shooting in remote locations like the Arctic? How did you prepare? What is the hardest part about shooting in cold weather?

JVB: There are many, many additional considerations that go into shooting in remote locations, especially when travelling with a sophisticated equipment package. Preparation involves fastidious attention to detail, starting with the planning stages. You need to be ready for contingency, for equipment failure (total or partial) and have backups of all the essentials. The hardest parts about shooting in cold weather are pretty obvious—keeping yourself warm, keeping your batteries warm, and keeping your equipment running are always crucial.  

AC: Is there anything in particular that makes a shooting location special? What do you look for when gathering footage?

JVB: The light. The fleeting point of confluence at which light, topography, and activity all meet is what yields magic.

AC: Wildlife is notoriously hard to shoot. Is there anything you take into consideration to help get the perfect shot?

JVB: First off, I don’t think I have gotten the perfect shot. In my view, the best way to capture wildlife is to research where you might find the fauna you are looking for, identify a target location, and then spend time there. I prefer to wait in one place and get to know it intimately; this allows me to develop an understanding of where the best opportunities exist. This enables me to find the best light and, hopefully, understand the habits and interests of the animals I am shooting. Observing animals candidly, without disturbing them, is always the most rewarding. That being said, you can do everything right and walk away without a single shot. It’s a crap-shoot like that, especially in landscapes as vast and changeable as the Arctic.

AC: What was the most challenging shot in this most recent project?

JVB: Many individual shots had their challenges, but I think the most delicate part of this project was trying to strike a balance between a number of competing priorities. At the end of the day, this is a piece to promote Arctic travel on behalf of Adventure Canada. It is also a portrait of a friend of mine, and one that I wanted to make candid without being overly revealing. Like many of the stories that I imagine and film, I wanted this to be honest and to steer away from a clichéed interpretation of the North, exploration, and wilderness travel.

AC: Part of what makes your northern films and images so striking is the haunting, subdued palate. Can you comment on how you achieve such a vivid representation of local colour?

JVB: I try and represent on film what I feel when I am in the North. The Arctic, as it lives in my memory, is not an overtly colourful place. It is an eerily beautiful place, though. I see a great deal of photography which feels like it stretches the boundaries of credible human experience in the Arctic. While there are flashes of brilliant colour on many of my Arctic voyages, my emotional memory of the Arctic on most days is reflected in my colour treatment of both still and moving images.

AC: How would you describe the experience of working with Adventure Canada?

JVB: I love these guys. It’s a family-run business with tremendous purchase in the communities we visit and huge respect for the part of the world in which they travel. Those relationships have taken decades to build, and aren’t something that can be bought. The resource staff aboard the AC vessels keep coming back, year after year, for the same reasons that I do—we get to work with great people in amazing places.

AC: What is your dream shoot? Somewhere you haven’t been, and always wanted to?

JVB: Tough question. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot , and get to a lot of ‘bucket list’ destinations. I want to continue to explore the most compelling and hard to get to pieces of wilderness in Canada, and around the world. If I had to narrow it down, I would say all of National Parks in Canada that I haven’t been to yet.

AC: Thanks very much, Jason!

JVB: Thank you!


Jason’s work is focussed on depicting North American wilderness, including the Far North in a manner that is authentic and narrative—building new interpretations of these landscapes. Favouring travel that brings him in direct contact with the frontier and those who inhabit it, Jason’s immersive work seeks to explore these emerging landscapes and capture the vulnerability of the ecosystems and the people who live within them, illuminating a tension between the strength and fragility of the region; the age-old resolve to survive, and the current intention to thrive in places where scarcity fosters incredible ingenuity, resilience, and hospitality. Visit his portfolio online for more information.

All photos courtesy of Jason Van Bruggen.

Arctic Photo Tips from a Pro: Guest Post from Michelle Valberg

MichelleValbergD4S5471.105926Nikon Canada Ambassador Michelle Valberg has been travelling with Adventure Canada for years, and her incredible photography plays a large role in helping us tell our story through exciting trip logs, brochures, and around the web. In addition to the successful photography business she runs in Ottawa, Michelle is the founder of the non-profit Project North, an organization dedicated to supporting northern communities with donated sporting equipment. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, the London Tribune, MORE magazine, Canadian Geographic, and In Style. She has self-published four books, including Arctic Kaleidoscopeand has been exhibited at the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Ottawa Hospital, the Wall Space Gallery, and the Trinity Art Gallery.

A mainstay of Adventure Canada’s expeditions aboard the Ocean Endeavour, Michelle delights in being out on deck and on the land, capturing the wide world around her through an ever-present lens. In anticipation of our 2016 sailing season—and in light of Adventure Canada’s new partnership with Nikon Canada—we caught up with Michelle to ask her a few questions about Arctic photography, to help our guests make the most of their expeditions to the far north.


Adventure Canada: What is the best technique for photographers to best capture the scale of the Arctic landscape?

Michelle Valberg:  For the vast and stunning Arctic landscapes, I suggest using a wide-angle lens.Buchun Gulf 812830

Ideally, a focal length between 14–28mm; I use a NIKKOR 14–24mm for most landscapes I shoot. You can also photograph a panoramic image which tells of an even greater story with a very wide perspective—one that might represent more of how it felt to be there.

Pay attention to the rule of thirds, and where you place the horizon line. Avoid placing the horizon line in the centre of the frame to achieve better composition and interest to your viewer.

Arctic Bay Nunavut D4S7629

AC: Is there a specific recommendation you have for photographers seeking incredible wildlife shots?

MV: In contrast to the landscapes, a longer lens is very useful for wildlife photography. Most often than not, you aren’t that close to your subjects and it is great to have a longer reach. For versatility I like to use the NIKKOR 80–400mm or 200–500mm. Both are incredibly sharp lenses.

If possible, shoot in the early morning or late day; don’t be in your cabin at prime shooting times! In these magic hours, light angles are lower and create more texture and interest in your image. Shadows and contrast are increased, and, typically, you get more wildlife activity (since it is feeding time). Play with front, back, and side lighting to see how you can photograph your subjects in different ways. Most importantly, watch and change your camera settings to get better results.

Narwal tail 7948Pay close attention to your background and positioning of your subject when photographing wildlife. Experiment with different foregrounds for landscapes. Change your vantage point often while in the same shooting area. Composition can make or break your image, and it is critical to creating and capturing that first-class photograph. Look for ways you can capture motion—whether with a bird in flight or a waterfall. Maybe you want to create a sense of motion with water. Remember your tripod and change your shutter speeds to achieve different affects.

Finally, watching animal behaviour and anticipating their next move can help you get better results. An animal can change the tilt of its head ever so slightly and take your image from good to fantastic. Watch a bird’s wing position, or how an animal walks or swims. Above all be patient—very patient!

King Eiders 0292AC: What’s the biggest mistake you see amateurs make in the field? How can they correct this?

MV: I find that many people don’t shoot enough!  SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT—and don’t stop shooting until you have your ultimate image. Always carry a lot of memory cards so you don’t have to worry about how many images you can take. The beauty of nature is all around, and you don’t have to go far to photograph it. Photograph in your backyard, a park or on a trail; pay close attention to your ISO, shutter, and aperture and experiment, practice, and continue to learn. Try to be unique with your approach and creativity so your images stand out and command your viewer’s attention.

AC: Do you have any tips for shooting from a moving ship? How about from a Zodiac?Icy Arm Polar Bears _D4S2599

MV: With the continued improvement and development of today’s cameras, you can shoot at much higher ISO settings that any of us probably thought was possible. Since you are shooting on a moving ship or Zodiac—and perhaps with a longer lens—you need a faster shutter speed (at least 1/250 second). If you start with a higher ISO setting, it will give you the ability to shoot at a faster shutter speed. I would also recommend setting your camera to shutter priority so you can choose your shutter speed. Stay steady and be aware of your fellow passengers. When you see a polar bear, it is hard to contain your excitement!

AC: What’s your favourite memory of shooting with Adventure Canada? Do any wildlife encounters or expedition stops stand out?

MV: There are so many favourites or special memories—too many to name! Every trip I have taken with AC is outstanding and gifts me with amazing and precious moments.


Join Michelle in 2016 aboard our Newfoundland Circumnavigation, and the Heart of the Arctic Nikon expedition!

MYACWhat does Canadian adventure mean to you? Photographers who answer this question through the #MyAdventureCanada photo contest could win passage aboard Heart of the Arctic 2016 (where they can hone their skills in the field with Michelle), as well as gear from Nikon Canada!

All photos by Michelle Valberg

Exploration is for Everyone

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AC passengers enjoy the midnight sun while exploring Ragged Island, Nunavut

The June issue of Canadian Geographic magazine names Canada’s Greatest Explorers. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the minds of those who seek new horizons—and return to tell the tale.

In our epoch, the poles, the peaks, and even the moon have all been visited, mapped, and made familiar. Exploration is no longer just about being the first one there (and back). As editor Aaron Kylie, diver Joe MacInnis, and author James Raffan all note, today’s explorer also has a responsibility to tell stories.

Director, diver, and documentarian James Cameron understands this implicitly. Having created two of the great popular myths of our time in Titanic and Avatar, he has also delved the ocean depths, whose stories most of us can only know through such work.

Likewise, Jill Heinerth, who has explored the iceberg caves of Antarctica and swum with Team Sedna, an all-female snorkelling expedition from Labrador to Greenland. Team Sedna brought back a story of disappearing sea ice that affects us all.

It’s important who tells the story—and where the story came from. Louie Kamookak gathered oral history from Inuit elders that would prove essential to finding the Erebus, Sir John Franklin’s flagship, off King William Island. Louie’s work reminds us there is a vast web of indigenous oral tradition only now being given its due.

Too frequently, we picture an ‘explorer’ as a bearded man, pitting himself against the unknown. Women like ocean rower Mylène Paquette are changing that perception. We must remember that some of history’s greatest feats of exploration have been undertaken not by lone trekkers, but by family units, migrating, on foot or horseback or by boat, all over the world. The umiaq, or ‘women’s boat’ played a pivotal role in the pre-European exploration of the Arctic.

We must consider that when known places are visited in novel ways, new and important stories are born. Think of Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion tour, or the empowering trek of the Cree youth who walked from James Bay to Ottawa, at the height of Idle No More. Are artists who plumb the human experience, like Buffy Ste. Marie or Leonard Cohen or Margaret Atwood not explorers, too? What of the philosophical journey of Jean Vanier?

Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland

AC passengers at Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland

Most importantly, we must remember that exploration is not just for heroes. Every one of us faces the terra incognita of his or her own life, an exploration we symbolically enact when we travel. We are forever exploring not just the new places we may visit, but the vast frontiers of our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual geography as well.

As with the living legends among the 100 Greatest Explorers, it’s the stories we come home with that matter most. That’s what makes exploration for everyone.

Adventure Canada is proud to have worked with Louie Kamookak, James Raffan, Jerry Kobalenko, Mike Beedell, Edward Burtynsky, Geoff Green, Bill Lishman, David Pelly, Peter Rowe, Mark St-Onge, and David Suzuki—all listed among Canada’s 100 Greatest Explorers. Congratulations to all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expedition to the End of the World

It’s one thing to travel; it’s another thing to travel without a specific destination in mind. It’s still another thing to travel to where few—if any—have gone before.

Expedition to the End of the World, from Danish writer-director Daniel Dencik chronicles such a journey, one that has an immediate appeal to Arctic travellers. The scenery, shot on the ice-choked Greenlandic coast, is achingly beautiful. But this film subverts the ‘nature film’ genre, creating not so much a portrait of a journey, or of a place, but of a late Western state of mind.

The premise is simple: a multi-national group of artists and scientists sets sail aboard an old wooden schooner for fjords along the northeast coast of Greenland, newly accessible due to climate change. That should be a straightforward story to tell. But there’s a catch: while exploration is the obvious purpose, the real goal of the expedition is shrouded in mystery.

ExpeditionToTheEndOfTheWorldHow many are aboard? We never get a clear picture. Where are they actually going? Somewhere up the coast of Greenland. How long are they at sea? We don’t know. How did they come together? Again, we don’t know. Most importantly, what are their motivations?

This last question is the key to the film’s hidden heart. Through a series of vignettes featuring individual artists, scientists, and ship’s crew, we learn that each traveller is really on his or her own, unique journey.

Amid genuine moments of discovery—potential new species of tiny sea creatures; evidence of human habitation revealed by retreating ice—there are quiet scenes beneath pristine mountain ranges, surrounded by looming ice, cruising through limpid waters. And silly moments, too: a scientist trying to wrestle a salmon bare-handed; the launching of a flying Zodiac, quotes from Futurama. The film veers from unnerving, to hilarious, to breathtaking, in bathetic lurches, just as the soundtrack jumps from Mozart to Metallica.

Ship of destiny, or ship of fools? This truly is an expedition ‘to the end of the world’—not just to the polar region, but to the edge of our own knowledge about the world, and, with the looming threat of climate change, perhaps of the world itself.

The symbol is too compelling to ignore: what are we all but passengers aboard a single ship, sailing for parts unknown, with no real goal in mind…and no clue what happens next?

Yet the journey, for all its unsettling moments, is a sublime one; the characters are so compelling, the landscape so beautiful, and the story so compellingly told, that we must conclude that it has been worthwhile.

And that perhaps, as with Expedition to the End of the Earth, it will all come out well somehow in the end.

Visit the coast of Greenland on these amazing Adventure Canada voyages:

Heart of the Arctic 2015
Arctic Explorer 2015
Into the Northwest Passage 2015
Out of the Northwest Passage 2015
Greenland & Wild Labrador 2016
Heart of the Arctic 2016
Arctic Safari 2016
Arctic Explorer 2016
Into the Northwest Passage 2016
Out of the Northwest Passage 2016

Carol Heppenstall says goodbye

Carol Heppenstall Adventure Canada

 

There are some things in life that are harder to accomplish than others. For me, telling Adventure Canada that I was retiring was one of those.

I have just passed my seventy-first Birthday and after twenty-two wonderful years of adventure, it’s time to pass the baton (or Wellies) to the next generation of art and culture lovers.

I joined the company because I wanted to share the arts of our Inuit and First Nations people. As an art historian, I believe the best way to understand a culture is through its artistic expression. When I joined Adventure Canada, we had three staff, most brochures were xeroxed, and we designed and went on all the trips. I can’t describe how exciting it was and what a privilege it has been. The Swans are like family—I’ve watched Cedar, Alana, and Matthew James grow up and seen their addiction to travel develop alongside their keen sense of humanity. Of course, they come by it naturally with June as their incredibly talented mother, Matthew, their wise (and most often, goofy) father, and a host of relatives who were always on hand with advice and support.

The resource staff that I was privileged to work with were extraordinary in every way. Names like Beedell, Catt, Houston, Peters, Reid, McGoogan, St.-Onge, Thomson,
and Tamblyn are award-winning Canadians—but I am pleased to call them my friends. Our special guests over the years exposed us all to a world of wonder, often sitting next to us in a Zodiac! Names like Davidson, Suzuki, Bateman, Piqtoukun, Ashevak, McCarthy, Lopez, Hallenday and Atwood come to mind, but there were so many others.

Perhaps the greatest rewards were travelling with friends and clients and sharing the landscapes of those “empty” places, as Matt likes to call them. As we soon discovered, they were, in fact, filled with the most generous and resourceful people we are likely to encounter. What memories! What photographs!

Back in Mississauga is a core of committed people who have made my life of adventure so easy. Laura Jane, and later Loretta, Sheryl, and Clayton have been with me a long time—but Judy was my go-to gal who held all of my endeavours together. Without her, my dreams would never have fit the schedule or happened on time. Thanks to all of you for your loyalty and good humour.

I have retired to Santa Fe, got a dog and and named him Bodhi, and yoga classes are my adventures these days. Life is rich and fulfilling; I see my children often, and get to my cottage on Lake Winnipeg every spring. Travel is not a priority these days, but don’t be surprised to see me now and again. I long for the exquisite opportunities of travel … and Adventure Canada does it best.

Yours in adventure,

Carol.

The Colour of Memory

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We were blessed this week at Adventure Canada HQ to receive an email from Gilles Matte, a passenger on our recent Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition. Mr. Matte lives in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, outside Quebec city, where he works as an architect. In addition to his trade, however, he is a singularly talented illustrator and watercolourist—he has worked to produce handsome tomes documenting old Quebec, the oldest roadway in Canada, and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. He is no stranger to capturing scenes of grandeur and contemplation, and we are proud to call him our friend.

With Mr. Matte’s generous permission, we are proud to present a selection of sketches and impressions from Greenland, Labrador, and Newfoundland.

Gilles, thank you for sharing your gift with us.

—Your friends at Adventure Canada

Treasures abound at Inuit Art Auction

Kenojuak Ashevak - Hare Spirits

Kenojuak Ashevak – Hare Spirits

Join Adventure Canada for refreshments and viewing of this 2014 Waddington’s Inuit Art Auction! Culturalists Heidi Langille and Lynda Brown will be on hand to present throat-singing, along with members of the AC staff and expedition team.

Hop to see you on Sunday November 16 at 3:00 pm at Waddington’s location in Toronto, 275 King Street East, Second Floor. Read on to learn about the art on view.

This season, Waddington’s is offering over 300 works of classic Inuit Art featuring sculpture, graphics and textiles from important artists such as Osuitok Ipeelee, Kenojuak Ashevak, Pauta Saila, Karoo Ashevak, Jessie Oonark, George Tataniq, Judas Ullulaq and many more.

There is a wonderful selection of anonymous works from the earliest period of commercial Inuit art, and a marvelous group of drawings from 1959-62 consigned by the original collector who worked in Kingnait (Cape Dorset).

Elizabeth Nutaraluk -  Woman with braided hair

Elizabeth Nutaraluk – Woman with braided hair

You will discover pieces carved in the distinctive style of the Kivalliq region, such as Elizabeth Nutaraluk’s depiction of a woman with braids.  There is a significant grouping of pieces – perfect for your mantel or curio cabinet – presented in Waddington’s Small Wonders section of the catalogue.

Karoo Ashevak - Bird guarding next of eggs

Karoo Ashevak – Bird guarding nest of eggs

Works in this auction include some sure to be sought after gems like a subtly carved owl by Tudlik, and a laden hunter by Ennutsiak.  Also of note: an extraordinary piece by Davidialuk illustrating the invasion of a threatening spirit; one of the largest sculptures of a solitary man by John Kavik that has yet come to auction; and some graceful and stunning birds by Lukta Qiatsuq.

Osuitok Ipelee - Polar bear with cub and seal

Osuitok Ipelee – Polar bear with cub and seal

In short – there is something for every collector.

Exhibition/Preview:

November 15-17, 2014

Saturday the 15th & Sunday the16th from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm

Monday the 17th from 10:00 am to Noon

See you at Waddington’s!

 

A Sight Better: Portraits of the artists

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Photographer and Arctic veteran Martin Lipman, who has worked for years with our partners at the Canadian Museum of Nature, has been photographing winners of the Governor General’s Award for visual arts since 2005.

A Sight Better: Governor General’s Award Winners in Visual and Media Arts, 2005-2013 collects those portraits for public display. The show opens June 14th at the School of Photographic Arts Redwall Gallery in Ottawa. A complimentary exhibition opens June 17th at Exposure Gallery.

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Martin Lipman will also present an artist talk at Exposure Gallery on Thursday June 20th at 6:30 pm. Martin will discuss his experiences travelling around Canada and photographing some of this country’s most influential artists.

(We hope Martin will tell the story of being present for the discovery of the Arctic camel on Ellesmere Island.)

Congratulations Martin!

Photographer Martin Lipman will be representing the Canadian Museum of Nature on Heart of the Arctic,June 24 – July 6, 2013

Baffin Island: a hot spot for art

When you think of the arts, what’s the first place that leaps to mind?

Places like Paris, New York, and Berlin are seen as the centre of the art world—but when it comes to creating art, remote Baffin Island, Nunavut, holds its own.

The communities of Pangnirtung, Kinngait (Cape Dorset), and the territorial capital Iqaluit with its many galleries are havens for gifted artists. Their world-renowned tapestries, limited edition prints, and soapstone carvings have put South Baffin on the map for many collectors and aficionados around the globe.

Combining contemporary technique and approach with traditional influence and values, the artists of South Baffin play an important role as ambassadors for the Arctic, its extraordinary landscapes and wildlife, and the very dynamic culture of the Inuit people.

Art and culture expert Carol Heppenstall has been guiding tours to Baffin Island for two decades. Here’s how she describes the experience:

Twenty one years ago I was asked to plan an arts tour to one of Canada’s most prolific locations – Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. The Inuit had been making “art” as we southerners define it for over 45 years in communities such as Iqaluit, Pangnirtung and Cape Dorset (now Kinngait). Here was an opportunity to visit these artists in their own communities and watch the creative process first hand. Those beautiful soapstone carvings, wool tapestries and limited edition prints all had their inspirational source in the land of the midnight sun. I am privileged to return to this, my first endeavor with the “Art is Adventure” programs. While a younger generation of artists has replaced those first elders I knew, the process of personal expression continues.

South Baffin draws art collectors, adventure travellers, bird watchers, animal lovers and Canadians passionate about our northern heritage. Summer is an ideal time to visit, as the days will be long, the sun high and bright, flowers blooming, birds on the wing and flowers on the move.

New York? Old hat. When it comes to art, South Baffin is a hot spot.

Join Caroll Heppenstall in South Baffin this summer, July 18, 2013 – July 25, 2013.

Jeremy Down: art from beyond

JeremyDown
Jeremy Down, a member of the Canadian artist collective Drawnonward, has joined several Adventure Canada voyages.

Down is an artist of unique vision, known for his unique three-dimensional combinations of painting and sculpture. In choosing to create works outdoors, Down is following in the footsteps of the Group of Seven painters and the Impressionists.

This superb short film explores Down’s process, focusing on a near-death experience while canoeing that left him with a whole new perspective on life.