Joyce Ferder Rankin: Images from the end of the world

By Eimear Flanagan

image source, J Ferder Rankin
image captionAlone - taken by Joyce Ferder Rankin in December 2013 near Vernadsky research base, Antarctica

A Northern Ireland-based photographer has literally gone to the ends of the Earth to highlight the "inhumane" effects of climate change.

Joyce Ferder Rankin travelled from the Arctic to Antarctica and back again over a four-year period from 2011 to 2015, capturing stunning polar images.

An exhibition of photographs from her journey has opened in Portstewart.

She decided to showcase "the beauty of what we are losing" rather than the ugly effects of human destruction.

The trip brought her up close and personal with polar bears - getting within 7ft (2.1m) of the fierce creatures to record their fight for survival on a shrinking hunting ground that is melting into the sea.

image source, J Ferder Rankin
image caption"Fire Bears” photographed in November 2014 at dawn in the tundra at Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
image source, J Ferder Rankin
image captionThis polar bear image entitled 'Nose to Nose' was taken in June 2015 in the ice flows north of Svalbard

Not everyone accepts the theory of man-made climate change, but there are other visible signs that human activity has had a damaging impact on the polar environment.

Joyce describes how she was struck by the "human detritus" left behind by the whaling industry - with abandoned hunting stations, rusting machinery and whale bones littering the landscape.

"They are uninhabitable condemned buildings that shouldn't be there, but for some reason no-one has ever cleaned them up and they just sit there and they rot more and more every year," she said.

"The asbestos is in the environment, so it's not even safe to hang around there very long.

"There's one island I went to and you walk along and there's thousands and thousands of beluga whale bones everywhere, just lying there, and you think 'what a waste'."

image source, J Ferder Rankin
image captionPenguins photographed in Scotia Sea near Elephant Island in December 2013

The US-born photographer knows all about the devastation man has caused around the planet.

She is a former war correspondent who reported on the Falklands War, the Persian Gulf War and the Bosnian War, working for many of the world's top broadcasters and collecting two Emmy awards.

'Left adrift'

She moved to Northern Ireland 17 years ago after meeting her late husband, former BBC reporter Noel Rankin, while they were both in Argentina covering the Falklands.

The American said she "fell in love" with Noel's native north County Antrim and the seaside village of Portballintrae has been her home since 1999.

However, after nursing her husband through terminal cancer, Joyce experienced "a sense of being left adrift" and wondered what to do with her life after his death on Christmas Day 2010.

Five months later, she "felt called to return to the comfort of being behind the camera" and embarked on her solo, self-funded odyssey that took her to Norway, Alaska, China and both poles.

image source, J Ferder Rankin
image captionJoyce photographed Columbia glacier in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in September 2011 and said it is "melting so fast that it will be gone completely by 2020"

She already had plenty of experience working in dangerous environments, but aside from having to be wary of polar bears which she admits could have "ripped my head off", she felt very secure during a series of polar expeditions.

"You weren't being bombed at any point, so to me it was incredibly safe," Joyce said.

"All you did was dress correctly. As long as you had the proper layers on, it was fantastic. I never thought about the cold when I was out there.

"It actually feels colder sometimes here (in Northern Ireland) because I'm not dressed right for it."

image source, J Ferder Rankin
image caption'Mother and Cubs of the Year' photographed in November 2014 in the tundra at Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

She argues that the real environmental danger is human pollution, recounting the depressing site of plastic shopping bags from a well-known German supermarket floating past her in the Arctic Ocean.

"We weren't near anything or anyone, so they had just been carried by the current, and it was horrifying," Joyce said.

"In the Arctic, you have what's called persistent organic pollutants - pops they call them - and this has gotten into the bears' system.

image source, J Ferder Rankin
image captionJoyce expressed fear that polar bears will die out in Svalbard because their hunting ground is melting

"It's not natural for it to be up there, it's come on the current and we've sent it their way. So, all these places that you would think of as pristine are far from it."

Joyce is also concerned that rising ocean temperatures and melting Arctic sea-ice will result in the total loss of hunting grounds for polar bears in the Svalbard islands.

"This year, it was the first time in history that there was no ice on the western part of Svalbard at all this winter - none," she said.

"We're going to lose a generation of (cub) bears and we don't know how many of the adults we're going to lose as well."

The exhibition, entitled Degrees, runs until 29 April at Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart, County Londonderry.

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