Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land

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Subhankar Banerjee was drawn to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to photograph polar bears in the wild—and fell in love with the land the native Gwich’in people call "The Sacred Place Where Life Begins." He devoted fourteen months over two years to documenting the landscape, its wild species, and its native peoples. With Iñupiat guide Robert Thompson, Banerjee traveled 4,000 miles on foot and by raft, kayak, and snowmobile to prove that the refuge pulses with life year-round—and that leaving the biological heartland free from commercial development is vital to the survival of this unique ecosystem.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land emerged in 2003 as the first comprehensive photographic portrait of the refuge in fall, winter, spring, and summer.

Braided River partnered with Alaska Wilderness League on the Seasons of Life and Land project. Founded in 1993 and based in Washington, DC, Alaska Wilderness League works to further the protection of Alaska’s public lands in the nation’s capital. Braided River also worked with numerous other conservation groups, includingThe Wilderness Society.

On March 19, 2003, Senator Barbara Boxer held up the book on the Senate floor during a debate about oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as an example of the rich variety of life and beauty of this land. She invited members to visit an upcoming exhibit of Subhankar’s work at the Smithsonian Institution. Ted Stevens took note and said, “People who vote against this today are voting against me, and I will not forget it.” The provision to open the land to development—tacked on to a budget bill—was defeated by a vote of 52 to 48. Soon after the vote, Banerjee received notice that the Smithsonian Institution, which depends on Congress for its funding, had decided to move his exhibit from a prominent space near the museum’s rotunda to the basement. The exhibit’s captions were also expunged of natural history information and quotes from President Jimmy Carter, Peter Matthiessen, David Allen Sibley, and others. Attorneys for the museum insisted that Banerjee remove all mentions of the Smithsonian from the book. The museum denied making any decisions due to political pressure and a subsequent inquiry was led by Senator Richard Durbin ..

Drawing significant media coverage, that controversy launched the book—and the Arctic Refuge—into the public spotlight. Once the public was made aware of the beauty and richness of this far-away place through images and stories—protection from short-term exploitation took on greater meaning, and urgency. This success sparked the inspiration for Braided River.

Photography by Subhankar Banerjee; foreword by President Jimmy Carter; essays by Peter Matthiessen, Fran Mauer, William H. Meadows, Debbie S. Miller, George B. Schaller, and David Allen Sibley; poem by Terry Tempest Williams (May 2003/176 pages).

For the latest on Arctic Refuge conservation, click here.