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Doug Allan on location during filming for Planet Earth -

Life at the Poles

THE wilds of the Antarctic and Arctic will be all too real for an audience in Glór in Ennis on Thursday, as wildlife film maker and photographer Doug Allan invites them to join him in an exploration of his life in these Polar opposites.

Speaking to The Clare Champion, Doug explains Clare is his first stop on a whirlwind 10-date tour of Ireland and he is looking forward to sharing his experiences.

“I began as a marine biologist and I worked a bit as a scientist but more as an assistant diver – this was way back in the early ’70s, and then I got this fantastic job in the Antarctic working as a diver. Between 1976 and 1986, I had spent a lot of time in the Antarctic; at one stage up to two and a half years without coming back. Really it was in that time that I gained a lot of experience about snow, ice and cold and of working and diving in those conditions. I also got into stills photography,” he said.

However, it was towards the end of his time there that a new passion developed, when a film crew came to their base to do some filming. Among those in that party was David Attenborough.

“I gave them a hand. I watched these guys and they seemed to be having a great time and what they were doing involved all the things that I enjoyed – diving, wildlife and photography. I spoke to them and I realised here was a lifestyle that I could try to get into. While I was very naïve, I had very little experience of moving images but I did know a lot about the Antarctic. I taught myself how to make movies. I then went to the Antarctic to make a few movies, which were successful and everything just followed on from there. That’s why the polar zones have tended to be my specialist areas and why I keep going back there,” he outlined.

Having worked as a freelance wildlife film maker for 30 years, Doug compiled a book called Freeze Frame, which covered a number of his experiences and still photographs. This led to him doing a series of talks in the UK about his life as a wildlife film maker and took him on two separate two-month tours in April/May and then October/November last year. This gave him the inspiration to broaden the scope and this time he will be doing 10 dates in Ireland.

Speaking about the show itself, Doug said it is a two-and-a-half hour show, where he outlines how he got into the business and about the two places that he says are “most precious to me”, the Arctic and Antarctic.

“We talk about polar bears in the North Pole and tell people a bit more about them and give them a feel for them. Then we go to the Antarctic and talk about the Emperor penguins, which are the biggest penguins that live in the Antarctic and we show some clips. Then for the second part of the show, I take them to the most unusual but most special place in the Poles and that is diving underneath the ice and I introduce some of the animals that live underneath there,” he said.

Doug enthrals when speaking about the various techniques for getting under the ice and managing in the cold, as well as his interactions with the animals below the ice surface.

“Throughout we also talk about the climate-change issues, which are a big issue for the Arctic in particular and how that is impacting it. It is a genuinely a show for all the family. I’ve had everybody from five to 95 at it, all taking away a little bit of something. Within the show there are four or five clips from series that I have contributed to, like the Blue Planet or Planet Earth,” he said.

While the work he does affords him opportunities that so few get, he does say it takes its toll and from that perspective, he feels it has to be something you are ultimately passionate about.

“You’d have to enjoy it. All wildlife people have a passion for what we do. I think we need to. It is a glamorous and a privileged job to have and we do get asked to go to some of the most wonderful places in the world and get to stay there far longer than any tourist would do and get access to animals that tourists can’t get to. But it does come at a price in terms of time at home and with your family and it is a very irregular lifestyle. We all work freelance, so we are very used to shoots being organised and postponed or extended and cancelled so it makes for a very irregular life and uncertain too if you did happen to get injured or hurt,” Doug said.

He also explains how important the conditions need to be to get the right type of photograph or video, as not only is the weather and the terrain hard to conquer but they can also create difficulties in capturing the wildlife.

“Light is really important anytime you take a photograph, especially in the Antarctic because if you have a day with cloud cover then everything goes mushy white and it just looks like black silhouettes on a white landscape so you just have to be prepared to be patient and wait until the light is good. At the poles, you do get very long sunsets. In the tropics, the sun goes from reasonably above the horizon down below the horizon in literally 15 minutes.

“In the Antarctic or Arctic at certain times of year the sun crawls barely above the horizon and you get long periods of wonderful long low-angled orange light, which really makes a photograph and if you have your animals up against that, it really makes them look very impressive and gives an opportunity to catch them exhaling when you get that lovely cold breath.

“While it can be frustrating at the Poles when the weather is bad, when it comes nice it gives you a loveliness that you can’t get anywhere else,” he said.

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