Over four years, wildlife photographers Peter and Beverly Pickford traveled to all seven continents to explore the Earth’s most untouched landscapes. From the Bransfield Strait of Antarctica where Cape petrels foraged on a towering iceberg, to the Namib Desert of Namibia where an oryx stood among dead trees in a dust storm, the places they visited are some of the planet’s most extreme habitats. This has limited human settlement. Still even these isolated and unforgiving environments are being impacted by climate change and development.
More than 200 of the Pickfords’s photographs are in Wild Land: A Journey into the Earth’s Last Wilds, out now from Thames & Hudson in association with Blackwell & Ruth. “As wildlife photographers, we have spent more time in the wilderness than almost anyone we know,” writes Peter Pickford in Wild Land. “It would therefore be strange if our intimacy with it had not fostered love and concern. Right from the beginning, the wilderness has stirred a passion and conviction for conservation in our veins.”
The over 300-page book is organized by location, with the photographs, often printed in large spreads across two pages, joined by inserts of Peter’s text. In the sub-Antarctic St. Andrews Bay, he describes how they marveled at a vast colony of king penguins — “so many that our eyes could not settle” — including some that came over to peck at their camera case. On the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, they witnessed an “extreme place of bitter cold and impossible heat, where lichens cling to the fringe of life, and a few hard-shelled scarab beetles who have learnt to tap moisture from fog run over the rusted, disintegrated relics of the very few men who have ever attempted to stay.” These travelogues are the only sections of the book to feature the lives of the communities in these regions, such as Aboriginals in Australia and Tibetan nomads on the Tibetan Plateau.
The main pages are reserved for the Pickfords’s wildlife photography, something they’ve been doing collaboratively for years, with previous books including the 1999 The Miracle Rivers: The Okavango and Chobe of Botswana and the 2014 Forever Africa: A Journey from the Cape of Good Hope to Morocco. (Both photographers were born in Africa.) Most of the Wild Land images are panoramic vistas of animals and landscapes, like polar bears prowling the sea ice north of Svalbard, Norway, and the light of the aurora borealis twisting above trees on the Yukon Plateau. However there are some small details highlighted from these monumental settings, such as lichens growing on cracked quartz in the Arctic Circle, and the weathered skin of an elephant in Namibia.
Every photograph gives its subject an transporting beauty, even the startling sight of a saltwater crocodile gorging on fish with its toothy maw in Kimberley, Australia. The photographs also don’t make these places appear fragile, but they are. In his passage on Alaska, Peter notes that there is more and more foot traffic in its remote lands, and “with each new road, each new boat landing or harbour, each new airstrip, a filgree of tracks — like the strands of a spider web — is spreading out into virgin country.” The flora and fauna captured by the Pickfords survive in the most intense places on the planet, yet their longevity is dependent on our attention to their protection.