Sebastian Copeland

Impressions of Antarctica

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After photographing the human footprint on Antarctica, Copeland believes the planet will be fine; it’s the rest of us he’s worried about.

Sebastian Copeland

Sebastian Copeland is a photographer and environmental activist. Copeland grew up in France and Britain, and graduated from UCLA in 1987 with a major in film. Throughout the 1990’s, Copeland directed commercials – everything from soft drinks to sportswear – as well as music videos. He is also known for his celebrity portraiture; he’s taken pictures of Sandra Bullock, Kate Bosworth, and Orlando Bloom (who is also his cousin), among others. In recent years, Copeland has focused on environmental activism. He serves on the Board of Directors of Global Green USA and recently published Antarctica: The Global Warning


Question: What was the strongest impression of your trip to Antarctica

Copeland: Well Antarctica yields an extraordinarily magical and otherworldly landscape.  It is . . . It is a dream for a photographer and an environmentalist because it is like traveling into a different world . . . another world; essentially what could be seen almost as another planet.  There’s never been an indigenous human population in Antarctica, and yet it is teeming with animal life unperturbed and unchallenged by the human presence; and not conditioned to the predatory characteristics of the . . . of the human activities.  ___________ that is.  And so    . . . So animals, they are simply not scared of humans is ultimately what I’m saying.  So to . . . To travel through this type of otherworldly environment that has been particularly antagonistic to human life or its . . . its cold and its condition.  But to be in a world of ice that is isolated from the rest of the world by a body of water that is particularly challenging where the conditions are cold.  And yet to see this vibrant animal life forces you to ponder the relationship of humanity to the rest of the world.  I mean we are one in 30 million species inhabiting this planet.  We are, intellectually it would allegedly seem, superior; but ultimately we are only one in this order of this planet who is hosting us, and who has not been hosting us all that long incidentally.  We are only 150,000 years old to the earth’s 4.5 billion years.  And when you travel in Antarctica, you cannot help but somehow get connected to that principle, because the Antarctica the landscape has been in its present form more or less for a very long time.  And . . . And as humans we are relatively new to this environment and very disposable ultimately.  The animal world functions very well without us there, and we are literally tourists into this other aspect of what is incidentally our garden in our backyard as well as the rest of the planet.  But one is stricken by the lack of human imprint, at least in a direct way; because although remotely, our activities are being felt in that environment – at the very least physically where we’re not there.  So it’s pretty magical to be traveling into that environment as such.

Question: What scenes most disturbed you?

Copeland: Well that’s a good question.  You know one thing that comes to mind is we traveled into an environment in a place called Port __________ in Antarctica.  I went there twice on two different trips.  And ___________ . . . Antarctica at the turn of the last century or the century before that – that is late 1800s and early 1900s – was a vibrant whaling environment. The Norwegians and __________ in particular who was an inventor and invented, amongst other things the exploding harpoon, contributed to the dissemination of the whale population of the Northern Hemisphere.  So the Scandinavians set their sites to Antarctica and set up what turned out to be a very productive for them whaling environment.  So true to tradition for the human lack of accountability, when you travel in some of these areas, they are . . . there’s a lot of human waste that has been there for over a century in the form of barrels – whale oil barrels that have been left over; or __________ that have been driven into the rocks and whatnot.  And so there are environments like this that are just littered with a lot of those barrels, and it’s been left behind.  And it’s a little shocking.  In modern day it would be like finding, you know, steel barrels left over and just polluting the land . . . as of course we do a lot as a society and as a humankind . . . as a human race . . . or plastic or whatnot.  So that’s one of the aspects that was sort of shocking, is to see all of this pollution – even though it’s in the form of wood and steel, but nevertheless.

Question: Did the experience leave you with any hope?

Copeland: We’d have to analyze what type of hope we’re discussing here.  If the hope is that the planet will be okay, I’m not concerned about the planet at all.  The planet’s gonna be just fine.  The planet is doing what it’s doing.  And if you . . . You know if you believe Lovelock . . . James Lovelock who is a philosopher . . . an environmentalist ____________ philosopher who is responsible for ___________ which is a widely accepted theory – today anyhow – that he introduced in the ’60s and ‘70s that the earth is a self-regulating organism . . . If you go by Lovelock’s theory, you know the earth is doing what it’s doing.  And in its . . . You know in its reaction to manmade activities, that if a climate and whatnot may well be shaking off what could be seen as a virus.  Humans could be seen as a virus because they destroy for the sake of destroying.  And they expand for . . . you know by virtue of its advances in technology and medicine and whatnot, and has exponential demographic growth and what not.  So hope    . . . My considerations have to do more with humanity than with the planet.  This may look like a dichotomy or a paradox in some respects, but it really isn’t.  I’m just hoping that as humans we get into the next phase of spiritual awakening; and understanding that we are one with the environment that is hosting us; and ultimately that energy is the paramount component for our survival.