American, b. India, 1967
Caribou Migration from Oil & the Caribou, color photograph from Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, 2003
Arriving along the Alaskan Arctic coast in time to give birth, the Porcupine caribou herd migrates 400 miles every spring. Gwich’in people call this region the “Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” Subhankar Banerjee’s photograph, illustrated in his book Seasons of Life and Land, documents one aspect of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s biodiversity.
The artist’s bird’s-eye view of caribou crossing a frozen river was introduced into the US Senate to help avert exploratory oil drilling in the refuge. In response to one senator’s description of the area as a “wasteland,” the photograph underscored the majesty of wildlife and the necessity of large expanses of land for its survival. Although the drilling plan was defeated, the issue has resurfaced.
In the spirit of Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter before him, Banerjee makes photographs that are deeply embedded in the tradition of wilderness preservation. What sets him apart from these earlier photographers is his conscious inclusion of native people in this equation, which can be seen in Seasons of Life and Land.