An extraordinary work, about an extraordinary bird, in an extraordinary place.
It took eight years to complete this unprecedented illustrated book. When the multiple international award-winning photographer Stefan Christmann set off for Antarctica for the first time in 2012 to spend the winter there as a scientist at the German Antarctic Research Station Neumayer-III, he did not yet know that this journey would change his life forever.
At the end of the world, he fell madly in love with the emperor penguin colony in neighbouring Atka Bay.
Whenever his scientific research work allowed, the photographer spent hour after hour on the sea ice observing and photographing the fascinating animals.
While he himself suffered from the enormous cold and merciless weather of the icy continent, he often wondered how it was that a bird that could neither fly nor walk particularly well was able to survive in a hostile place like Antarctica.
When he was able to return to Atka Bay as an expedition photographer and camera assistant in 2017 as part of the BBC film production "Wild Dynasties" and now spent countless hours with the penguins through his new assignment, he finally understood why.
Christmann realised that almost all of the emperor penguins' behaviours had one thing in common: they aimed to build and maintain strong social connections with each other. These were not only connections to their breeding partner and chick, but also to their frosty environment and ultimately to all their conspecifics in the entire colony.
The penguin love
Fascinated by this realisation, the photographer could ultimately think of only one artificial word that could aptly describe his observations: "The Penguin Love". His first illustrated book "Penguin: a story of survival" tells a very personal story of this "penguin love" in a sensitive and visually impressive way, drawing on a fund of image material that makes Christmann's archive unique in the entire world. Very probably no photographer in the world has spent more time with the emperor penguins. His photographs from a total of 26 months in Atka Bay not only show the incomprehensible beauty of the Antarctic continent during the South Polar winter, as well as the penguins, but ultimately also their threat from climate change.
The photographer divides the work into five chapters, all of which are a delight not only for photography enthusiasts, but also for people interested in Antarctica and penguins, containing a wealth of astonishing facts and stirring, pictorial descriptions.
A colourful world of water and light
In the prologue "A Flowing World", Christmann tells of the special nature of Antarctic ice and the importance of this terra incognita for our planet. In the process, he depicts the white desert of Antarctica as a colourful world of water and light that holds many a surprise in store for the attentive observer.
In the following chapter, "Tying the Knot", the actual main story of penguin love begins: little by little, more and more penguins arrive in the south of Atka Bay at the end of the austral summer and set out to find a suitable mate for the breeding season. However, the courtship of the penguins is not only aimed at mating, but rather at building a close and almost inseparable bond with the breeding partners. The dancing and singing rituals of the smartly dressed birds are among the most aesthetic in the entire animal kingdom, so that this chapter is accompanied by visually impressive photos.
Christmann's work reaches its midpoint in the chapter "Testing the Bond", which is about the newlyweds' penguin love being put to its first big test with the arrival of the ice. While the females make the arduous journey towards the ocean to replenish their energy reserves for the approaching winter, the male penguins remain in the colony, carrying the single, fragile egg on their feet. Their endurance is put to an unimaginable test when countless heavy blizzards sweep across the sea ice. Christmann spent a large part of these bad weather days with the birds and was able to capture the penguins' struggle against the elemental forces of nature in impressive photos. But you will also find the beautiful sides of the now prevailing polar night in this chapter.
Starry nights and auroras that can only be seen in Antarctica.
Finally, the story of penguin love comes to a provisional end with the chapter "The solution of the tape". After hatching, the cute chicks grow up quickly and many a funny but also deeply heartbreaking scene takes place on the sea ice. The successful hatching of the imperial offspring is no guarantee for their survival and on their way to adulthood the smallest members of the colony have to face the greatest challenges.
In the epilogue "A Thawing World" we then learn why, because as expected, global climate change is beginning to have its catastrophic impact even in the most remote region of the earth. The premature break-up of the sea ice literally deprives the young penguins of their basis for survival and forces the new colony members to make desperate attempts to save themselves. In impressive images of epic dimensions, Christmann shows a fragile world whose disintegration has already begun. Only if we humans take the penguins as an example and act self-sacrificially and as a united world family can we still avert the catastrophe.
One thing is certain: despite snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures, "Penguin: a story of survival" will not leave you cold. It is a truly personal story about sacrifice, devotion and about love - at the end of the world.
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