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Expedition Photography: Building on a Legacy by Gaelin Rosenwaks

By May 5, 2015No Comments
Image © Gaelin Rosenwaks

Image © Gaelin Rosenwaks

Text and Images by Gaelin Rosenwaks

Storytelling and the ability to share one’s expeditions and discoveries are key elements to exploration. During the expeditions of early explorers, like Columbus and James Cook, paintings and drawings captured moments of discovery and hardships. An expedition artist was always brought along to document the journey. Once photography was invented, expedition photographers were brought to photograph these moments of discovery along with the daily life during the journey.

When I think of the seminal work of an expedition photographer, I recall Frank Hurley’s images from Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition in 1914. Through his images, one can get a sense of the desolation of being trapped in the ice and feel the cramped living quarters of the ship during the day-to-day operation. These images bring the story to life and allow for a deeper connection than words alone. Once trapped in the ice, the images become more compelling as he continued to photograph the ship being crushed by the ice and life on the ice once the ship went down. Photographs, like the early paintings, capture the intangible while bringing you into the moment.


Fortunately, I have not photographed the aforementioned hardships, but I have been able to document oceanographic research expeditions around the world, particularly in the Arctic. Photography has come a long way and is now accessible to everyone and, for that reason, plays an even more important role in our expeditions and storytelling. As an explorer and expedition photographer, I am acutely aware that followers of my expeditions expect to see compelling images.

We now have the ability to bring people sitting on their couches along on the journey in real time. Through blogging and social media, viewers can experience expeditions in the most remote corners of the world through both still images and video, getting a sense of place as exploration happens. Because of this technology, we end up with an unedited version that captures moments and raw emotions rather than, as the explorer and photographer, we remember it once we are home. I think this is extremely powerful.

As a photographer, my camera is always with me on an expedition to catch that unexpected moment, but also to capture the everyday. Moments from an icicle hanging from a ship railing, to the first glimpse of sea ice when steaming north in the Arctic Ocean, to the science being conducted on board. All are documented in an effort to record the journey and share these precious moments from remote corners of the world.

The expedition artists and photographers of the past set the bar high for present day expedition photographers. Their compelling images have inspired me to document cutting-edge research expeditions of the present in an effort to share what science is doing to understand questions like climate change, ocean acidification and overfishing.

About Gaelin:

Gaelin Rosenwaks is a marine scientist, photographer and filmmaker. She founded her company, Global Ocean Exploration, to share her passion for ocean exploration, the marine world and its conservation through film, photography and writing. She now participates and conducts expeditions in every ocean to alert the public not only to the challenges facing the oceans, but also to what science is doing to understand these changes.

Gaelin is a US Coast Guard Licensed Captain, and a Fellow of both the Royal Geographical Society and the Explorers Club where she serves on the Conservation Committee. Gaelin has published articles in scientific journals, newspapers and magazines. She has also appeared as a scientific consultant and angler on the National Geographic Channel Series, Fish Warrior. More of Gaelin’s work can be found at

And to follow the latest, her twitter and instagram @gaelinGOExplore