Fur the love of bears

I am a wildlife and conservation photographer based in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest (GBR), living in Klemtu among the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people. I was born and raised in a small market town in the UK. As a child I was deeply curious of the natural world, so it’s no wonder I ended up in one of the wildest places on the planet.

I use tourism and photography as a tool to communicate the environmental issues that Mother Earth faces today. To tell these stories involves enduring the harsh and diverse weather that the rainforest brings. A normal day is thick fog that covers the bow of our boats and buckets of rain that just won’t quit, along with ocean swell and chop for good measure. Through these adventures, I have worked with some of the world’s leading photographers and outdoor professionals.

Most of what I’ve learnt has come from the Kitasoo/Xai’xais community. They have lived and breathed the wilderness for centuries, and I have them to thank for most of my knowledge. Other skills like driving boats, weather endurance and taking photos that drive emotion - all come from time and patience. Mostly, I’ve learnt that people protect what they love. The goal of my photography is for my audience to fall in love with the subject.

Jack is wearing the Element T

When did you first start taking photos?

In 2014 I encountered my first Spirit Bear (a black bear with a recessive gene that gives it white hair). I didn’t have a camera and regretted it. My good friend Phillip Charles stuck a DSLR camera in my hand when he noticed I took interest. My first photo was of a black bear eating salmon in a river from 10 feet away. I was hooked.

Who are your inspirations?

Sir David Attenborough has inspired me like no other. Growing up watching him chase lizards and hang out with gorillas was a beautiful thing. I have had the pleasure of meeting him once, briefly, but it was definitely a “I’ll never wash this hand again” moment! The photography and story telling of National Geographic’s Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier also have me constantly inspired.

What is your favourite subject to photograph?

Mostly bears, but anything that opens the hearts of my audience, that sparks emotion or the inspiration to take action or make change.

How did you end up in the Great Bear Rainforest?

I was fascinated with bears and I went to visit the rainforest as a tourist where I would see my first grizzly bear in the wild. The place, the people and the bears stole my heart. I was incredibly addicted to the wilderness air and the crazy weather patterns that we endured on my first visit. We would wake up to thick fog and mist, then the sun would slowly beam through. Then, a downpour of rain like I’ve never seen. It truly is my favourite place to be.

What is your favourite memory of being in the rainforest?

There are so many good ones but I will always remember this particular day. I was on a boat searching the shoreline at low tide for black bears. Far ahead I could see what seemed like splashing in the water, but it was way too big to be an animal, I thought.

I decided to take a closer look.

As I got closer and closer, it looked to me that the “splashes” were actually whale blows, but not just one, there were dozens. I had to keep rubbing my eyes to be sure I wasn’t seeing things, but I was close enough to tell that, for sure, it was a giant pod of humpback whales. Soon, I was surrounded by flukes, blows and the ripe smell of whale breath. I’m still not sure, but I think there must have been upwards of about 80 to 100 whales that day. It was beautiful.

What advice do you have for someone that wants to visit the GBR?

Expect all weather scenarios! Bring your best rain jacket, and if you bring a camera, get some waterproofing for it. It also gets very hot, and no one is happier for you to visit than the insects. Expect to be thrown around your vessel - the chop and swell can get nasty. Also, if you’re coming to find the rare spirit bear, be hopeful but don’t be disappointed if you don’t get lucky. In five years, I’ve only seen 10 individuals. 

Do you ever get scared around the bears?

There have been sensitive moments, but like sharks, bears have been painted a bad image thanks to the movies. They avoid conflict if they can, all they want to do is eat, sleep, mate and be respected. If you can allow them to do those things, then you’ll be just fine.

What else do you photograph in the rainforest?

The Kitasoo/Xai’xais are beautiful, kind people who are proud of their culture. I love to take photos, with permission, of their dances, singing and other cultural events. It’s quite an honour to be present in those moments. Of course, there is the wildlife too. Besides bears there are wolves, goat, whales, wolverine, dolphins, orcas, porpoise, salmon, sea otters, crabs, urchins, starfish…the list goes on.

What animal have you not yet photographed?

The wolverine! Those guys are too hard to find. I haven’t seen one yet.

Why do you love bears so much?

They are the most charismatic creatures I’ve ever seen. Each one has an incredible personality, which varies from playful, timid, greedy, wise and of course, grumpy. Look at this photo of two bears in love! You only see this behaviour in the spring, during the mating season. It was tear-jerking.

They are also incredible survivors, which is why I admire them so much. They are built to cope with everything, harsh winters and hot summers. They also sleep about 6 months of the year. Now that is inspiring!

What is your best image?

I’m not sure about best, but this image is one of my favourites.

I love the thoughtfulness in the bear’s posture, and the green rainforest looks so rich and healthy. My favourite photographs are the ones I remember taking. I remember this one because I had just helped an elderly gentleman with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) hike to this very spot – it wasn’t easy. He was sat next to me taking photos on his Nikon film camera. That was a seriously special moment.

Where else in the world would you like to travel?

I want to travel everywhere, but I know what’s next on my list - the Antarctic. I feel so drawn to it for its rich wildlife and history. The penguins, leopard seals, whales, landscape and more. It sounds like a photographer’s dream.

What is your favourite Rohan garment(s)?

I have an abundance of Element T-shirts. I just love them so much. I spend a lot of my time up to my hip in water, and when I get out, they dry so quickly unlike cotton. They’re also seriously comfortable and I wear them for every day use. I’m not sure I’ll ever buy a different T-shirt!

What’s on your Rohan wish list?

You can see more of Jack’s photography on his Instagram.

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