In their first cooperation, the British label Shackleton and LEICA Camera AG developed the Frank Hurley Photographer’s Jacket, a parka for photographing in extreme conditions. In 2019, the two partners launched the Capture the Extreme Photography Competition, the first prize winner of which was the Swede Olle Claeson. A conversation with Martin Brooks, co-founder of Shackleton, about photography of extremes, the beauty of nature and the power of images.
What drove you to launch the Capture the Extreme Photography Competition?
Shackleton has long had an affiliation with the world’s extreme places. Our apparel is developed to perform in sub-zero temperatures – we’ve engineered parkas that will function down to -25ºC, jackets for pilots operating in Antarctica, and gilets stuffed with pure goose down so that they pack down to the size of an orange. When we then started working with Leica, a brand which has facilitated the immortalisation of so many iconic moments in history, the photography competition became an obvious way to unite our specialities and celebrate the beauty of the planet, and the people and wildlife living in the most improbable places.
There were more than 2000 entries from all over the world – did you expect that many?
To be honest, we didn’t start with any expectations – we knew it was a topic that people are very passionate about, and therefore knew we’d appeal to these photographers in the same way that our world-first collaboration with Leica – the Frank Hurley Photographer’s Jacket – attracted global interest.
What surprised you the most – according to the entries?
In the end, it wasn’t just the quantity of entries that was so encouraging, but the quality of the images. There was such depth in the narratives and the locations that showcased hidden beauty across the world. It was incredible to read people’s individual stories and learn what lengths people are willing to go to in order to capture an image. The interest is certainly there for this to be an annual competition, with more partners and an even greater reach.
Was it hard to find a winner? Was there a long shortlist?
In short, yes. Whittling the entries down to a shortlist to present to the judging panel was a long process in itself. And in truth, the shortlist was more of an ‘longlist’ as so many of the entries deserved to be seen by the judges. In the end, Olle Claeson was chosen as the winner; the judges being drawn to the striking composition and the social relevance given the urgency around climate change and the loss of sea ice.
To take the winning picture of the enormous ice wave, the photographer’s very life was in danger for a couple of seconds. How far should extreme photography go? Don’t you think an award like this triggers many photographers to take even more risks?
As with most of the entries that were submitted from Antarctica, the scene captured was being closely monitored by a highly-qualified guide, who ensured the safety of the group was put first. The ‘extreme’ element to the photography competition does not represent the photographer’s ability to push their physical boundaries, rather it encourages them to capture places, events and cultures that aren’t ordinarily in the public eye or plastered across Instagram. It’s also important to note that everyone’s definition of ‘extreme’ is different; the way in which it was interpreted proved to be one of the many fantastic elements of the competition.
What does photography mean to you?
Photography fuels exploration beyond the obvious; it encourages people to look closer and finding something of interest in their surroundings. A camera facilitates a deeper appreciation for the places you visit, the people you meet and the cultures you experience.
Do you think photos of our planet’s wonderful nature can increase people’s awareness of the need to protect the planet?
Absolutely, now more than ever. The world is in need of help: resources are being pushed to the limit, climate change is altering the landscape at a rate that not even scientists predicted, and iconic species are being lost to extinction. Capturing the world’s beauty highlights the need to protect them, before it’s too late.
How did the collaboration with Leica Camera AG work?
It has been a privilege to work closely with such a respected brand with a reputation for innovation. As Leica aims to be at the forefront of camera technology, so too Shackleton aims to be at the forefront of performance outerwear. The collaboration led to the development of the Frank Hurley Photographer’s Jacket, a world-first innovation that empowers photographers to keep on shooting in cold weather. We are now working together once more on a new, very exciting project – to be revealed later in the year. Shackleton will also be running the photography competition again later in 2020.
The history of Shackleton:
A century ago, during the Heroic Age of Exploration, courageous men underwent unimaginable hardship to extend the limits of the known world: for science, for country and for honour. Sir Ernest Shackleton remains the most enduring figure of this age – his life and achievements stand out 100 years later as a reminder of what true character really means. He is also a man who has inspired me to reach further in my professional life and personal adventures on land and sea. Shackleton is a modern British brand inspired by Sir Ernest’s courage and leadership. Our mission is to build a world-leading, innovation-led label that offers a unique and compelling combination of high performance and luxury refinement. In four short years we’re proud to have built a passionate following of adventure-minded men around the world. Our customers value the brand’s outstanding performance credentials, strong distinctive design and innovative use of the very best materials.