Book Review: Arctic Sanctuary

Posted on December 2, 2010 by Mickey

photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

I’ve never bought a coffee table book, mostly because our coffee table is more for my feet than either coffee or books, but also because I have no interest in large-format glossy collections of horses or cars or the New York Giants. In fact, I still don’t have a coffee table book, even though I recently received an unsolicited copy of Arctic Sanctuary: Images of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the mail. Instead it sits on the end table, and it is gorgeous.

Maybe it would be different if I lived in Alaska or frequented the boardrooms of large multinational oil companies, but I haven’t heard much about the ANWR in the last couple of years, though the excruciating refrain of “Drill, baby, drill!” does still occasionally ring in our ears. Of course the issue of drilling for oil in our nation’s largest wildlife refuge is far from dead, but 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the designation of the region as federally protected land, as if we needed another excuse to talk about it. Fifty years of “protected” status seems rather trivial for an area of the planet that so far has done just fine without us (ANWR is nearly the size of South Carolina but is not accessed by a single road), but the discovery in the 1970s of oil deposits far beneath its varied landscape means the controversy will never go away.

I could see the potential of a book like Arctic Sanctuary before I even cracked the spine. Right there on the cover is an idyllic scene: a sun-dappled flat-bottomed valley of autumn golds, reds and greens with a sinuous river meandering through it, walled in by steep gray mountainsides. No ice. No wind-whipped tundra. Nothing to suggest a wasteland. I didn’t need to see anything more to understand the mission of photographer Jeff Jones and author Laurie Hoyle: you’ve heard of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, now here’s what it looks like. And boy is it stunning.

As a lover of wild places, I’ve always taken a particular interest, and despaired quite a bit, in the debate over drilling in the ANWR because it is, as Michael Engelhard puts it in his introduction to the book, “North America’s last best place.” In the entire world there is hardly another place of this size that has gone largely unaffected by the activities of humans. It seems apparent to someone like me that this quality should be protected regardless of any short-term benefits we may remove from the land.

Arctic Sanctuary‘s business is really just presenting this enormous place in all its variety, from the rugged peaks of the Brooks Range to the boreal┬áspruce forests to the shore of the Arctic Sea. Strangely, Jones didn’t include a single photograph of an animal of any kind, surely a conscious decision since the venue he was shooting in hosts the largest migration of land mammals on the continent with around 100,000 caribou moving en masse each year, not to mention all three of the continent’s bear species, moose, wolves, lynx, cranes, Dall sheep and the list goes on and on. The book isn’t going for the easy heartstrings, completely bypassing cute little polar bear cubs for striking panoramas of the land itself. It is left to the text that accompanies every spread to explain the scenes, including fauna, flora and the diverse geology of the region.

It works for me, but I’m hardly a hostile audience. I am fascinated, though, to see this place that is the subject of so much contention, not through the quick, fly-by images of TV and magazines, but through the patient lens of a guy who clearly spent a lot of time in the cold, swatting mosquitoes, waiting for the light to be right. If your coffee table needs a book or you’re just a fan of wild places and fantastic photography, Arctic Sanctuary is illuminating.

For more information on photographer Jeff Jones or to view images from the book, visit his site,

1 Comment +

  1. It is a gorgeous book. The Arctic is a place I’ll likely never visit, and I prefer it that way because I don’t want to taint it with my human presence, and so the pretty pictures are enough for me.

    December 2nd, 2010 at 11:09 am
    Comment by Courtney

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