on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Remembering icebergs in Portage Lake, Alaska

Bruce Herman

Bruce Herman

I started carrying a camera to document my travels in the mountains. After some time, I realised that I was more interested in making photographs than climbing mountains. My first cameras were 35mm film cameras, but in the early 1990’s I found that I was primarily interested in landscape photography and decided that I could best express myself with a large format camera. The 4x5 camera would be my primary tool for over 23 years. I finally stopped using it when the kit became too heavy for my aging body. I’ve worked almost exclusively with digital cameras since 2013. I’ve been a part-time professional photographer since1990 but would have starved to death had it not been for my day job.

When I came to Alaska in 1981, a trip to Portage Lake to see glacial ice up close was a treat that everyone took for granted. The Portage Glacier was rapidly receding. It had retreated from its submerged moraine in Portage Lake and with nothing to support it, the portion of the glacier in the lake was breaking up. I began a project to photograph the Portage valley in the mid-1990’s with the intent of demonstrating that the valley was of visual interest even without the glacier itself.

Even after the glacier itself was no longer visible, I think that everyone assumed that icebergs would be discharged into the lake forever. Climate change was not part of our vocabulary then. Most people, myself included, didn’t realise that the glacier would continue to retreat until its terminus was sufficiently far from the shoreline that it would no longer calve into the lake except in rare circumstances. So it’s unlikely that anyone will make photographs similar to these for hundreds if not thousands of years.

The value of these images for me goes beyond their documentary value. I’ve always been moved by what I’ve seen in the valley, and I hope that you are, too.

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