Mattias Klum about his trip to Svalbard: "A hard-to-beat place"
For many years, the internationally recognised photographer, filmmaker and artist Mattias Klum has explored unique environments around the world. Svalbard is a place he has returned to several times, experiencing all seasons and the dramatic changes in nature. However, in August, when he travelled with our expedition ship M/S Quest, it was the first time he participated as a fellow traveller and inspirer. In this interview with Mattias, you gain a deeper insight into his trip and why he considers Svalbard one of the world's most unique destinations.
Mattias Klum loves diversity and being touched, both by the grandeur in the small and the small in the grand. Whether it's the small wonders of spring when the bluebells appear or the majestic presence of mountain gorillas in the lush forests of Rwanda. With the whole world as his workplace, he has witnessed countless wonders, but for him, Svalbard is one of the most unique destinations on our planet.
"The landscape is incredibly beautiful: infinitely vast, impregnable, and actually quite inhospitable. I love the feeling of being small and experience a deep sense of humility and love for this unrivaled nature. It's a hard-to-beat place."
Mattias participated in one of the season's last expeditions, which departed in early September. He describes the trip as very varied. The weather played a crucial role, creating favorable conditions for both landings and observations from the deck.
"We really got to experience the different faces of Svalbard. It could go from being really sunny and warm on deck to an almost impenetrable fog. We were lucky enough to avoid persistent grey weather and strong winds, and I think everyone got a sense of how incredibly beautiful and dynamic Svalbard is."
The amazing wildlife encounters were another highlight that both Mattias and his fellow travellers really appreciated. Although many birds had already migrated south, the bird mountains were still filled with stragglers. Furthermore, they were able to observe several polar bears and walruses in different situations, while witnessing polar foxes and Svalbard reindeers wandering across the vast landscapes.
“Seeing blue whales from the ship was also exceptional. It is truly a unique world in so many ways."
Photo and film assignments have previously brought Mattias to Svalbard, both during the darkest months of polar night and in the summer when the sun never sets. Like in all places with distinct seasonal changes, nature goes through different stages, creating diverse experiences depending on when you choose to travel.
"I think all seasons are equally amazing. For me as a photographer, the diversity is very exciting; it gives me the opportunity to create a complete picture of the place. It's magical when the light returns in spring and lots of species have their offspring. It's a dramatic time. Then comes summer and the midnight sun. We are used to bright nights in the north, but in Svalbard it is even more extreme."
This time, Mattias participated as an inspirer and lecturer. He shared his expertise in sustainability and nature, while also being available for questions about photography. On board there was a diverse group of guests, ranging from experienced photographers with advanced equipment to beginners who wanted to learn how to capture better images with their mobile cameras.
“I thought it was enjoyable. Everyone on board had different expectations and aspirations. Often, we place a lot of focus on the technical aspects of photography, but I believe that the most important aspect is capturing emotion – knowing what you want to convey and how to do justice to what you feel and see. It's always rewarding when you succeed in bringing out different personalities, regardless of their level of experience.”
Mattias, who in his professional role often travels alone or in a small team, experienced the social interaction and community on board as something very nice.
"After sharing a series of amazing experiences and spending several days together on the ship, one evening culminated in almost a manifestation of joy. Everyone participated and seemed super happy. They say that shared joy is double joy, and there's something very true about that. "
To share a moment with one or several other people, whether it's something you've experienced before or not, is something that Mattias finds very touching in many ways. His role on board also involved, as he puts it, 'extrapolating the experience' by sharing memories and other references to help the recipient understand the uniqueness of a particular animal encounter or a special nature experience.
“If you stand there together and see dolphins jumping in backlight far on the horizon, you can turn to each other and say, 'Wow, did you see that? Wasn't it beautiful?' Then I might tell an anecdote about dolphins, and we've all shared those seconds of fascination.”
The sound of flying red-throated loons was something else that stirred strong personal emotions in Mattias.
"It was one of the first birds I became obsessed with as a young photographer, and one of the first pictures I ever sold was of a flying red-throated loon. Hearing them really went straight to the heart, and I felt a strong need to share that experience with anyone who was around."
A place that many dream of visiting is the mythical Kvitøya. During this expedition, the weather conditions were favorable enough to reach all the way. Mattias describes how he and several others on board became very enthusiastic as they approached the shore with the Zodiacs. There, they were met by a female polar bear ambling along and settling at a perfect distance from the monument that everyone had been looking forward to seeing.
"Normally, everyone reacts with great joy when they see a polar bear, but here it instead sparked some dissatisfaction. The situation became almost comical."
Even though it became somewhat of an anticlimax not being able to go ashore, Mattias still found it to be a beautiful experience to come so close to this small island and get a sense of how Andrée and the other expedition members experienced their fateful journey.
"They were very exposed. I think everyone got a sense of how humble and small one feels in this amazing, barren, and in many ways contradictory nature."
One thing Mattias often feels when working in extreme environments, including Svalbard, is that these places are not really meant for humans.
"We are a versatile species, but in reality, we are not particularly good at anything. We are naked, weak in general, can't fly, run fast, or swim very well..."
Mattias believes that being on this kind of trip, where you are not constantly fed with experiences, can be a valuable thing. You are here on nature's terms and learn to see things in a different way. You appreciate the silence, the stillness and the vast landscapes.
"Suddenly you might see a blue whale, a majestic Northern Fulmar gliding by, or some walruses wallowing on a beach. But hours can pass between such moments. I think it's very healthy in many ways."
Something that many people appreciate about our expeditions in Svalbard is the ability to be completely present in the moment, without connectivity or contact with the outside world. For Mattias, who is used to spending long periods in the field with only a satellite phone for emergency communication, the experience was not unique, but still very valuable.
"I think it's very healthy. It's good that you can focus on the experience and on socializing with other people. Being free from constant connectivity is soul-saving in many ways."
For Mattias, travelling is something that extends far beyond the joy of seeing beautiful icebergs or majestic polar bears.
"I don't engage in projects unless I feel they are meaningful. Considering the pressure we put on our planet, the Arctic is one of the life-sustaining systems that the Earth needs to function. By being there, perhaps we can all be ambassadors for an environment that we must be infinitely protective of.”
When asked if he, like so many others, has caught the so-called polar bug — an eternal longing to return — he jokingly replies that he is full of bugs: sea bugs, rainforest bugs, polar bugs... But then he quickly turns serious.
"I love diversity and being touched. Our world is extraordinary, but we live in a time when we have to make wise choices. We cannot afford to exploit, destroy, fish out or use sensitive sites for oil extraction. It is very important for me to choose organizers who care for nature, respect culture and actively work with sustainability - who take responsibility. Therefore, I only collaborate with companies that share these values."
About Mattias Klum
Mattias Klum is a professional photographer, filmmaker and artist with over three decades in the industry. He is internationally recognised for describing, visualising and portraying animals, plants, culture and natural environments in a variety of media. His work has been published in many international magazines, such as National Geographic, BBC Wildlife and The New York Times.
For his significant work, he has received several prestigious awards. He is also an active ambassador for environmental organisations and holds an honorary doctorate in natural sciences at Stockholm University.
Please note: We always follow strict wildlife guidelines to ensure that we do not cause any disturbance.
M/S Quest 50 passengers12 days 10 nights on ship USD 8 390LanguagesDeparture: July 2024Special lecturer on board
Since 1999, we have taken travellers on once-in-a-lifetime trips to Svalbard. From May to September our three small expedition ships, carrying only 12 and 50 passengers, explore this magnificent Arctic archipelago. Unpredictability and flexibility are the main keywords when you travel with PolarQuest as the exact route depends on weather, ice conditions and wildlife encounters. Sometimes you might be woken up in the middle of the night if a polar bear has been spotted on the ice.