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Antarctica

E-M10 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 7‑14mm 1:2.8 PRO • 1:16 • 1/125s • ISO 200

There always comes a day when you feel like something is coming to an end. That’s what’s just happened to me. Precisely when I thought my trip to Antarctica wouldn’t end, it did. If I had to sum it up in one word, “floating” comes to mind, since I literally floated across the ocean for three weeks. But “floating” is also appropriate because time passed in a very specific way: those were endless days full of reading books, staring off into space, or simply thinking about what the future holds. But the moment came when—bags slung over my shoulder—I made landfall and didn't want to look back. The Silver Explorer had become my home for days on end. But it had also become my workplace, the place where I delivered photography talks, the testing ground for the new E-M1 Mark II, and the shelter which my friend Juan and I had shared, where we had divulged the few secrets we had left to tell each other.

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 7‑14mm 1:2.8 PRO • 1/2500s • ISO 800

A few months ago, I was offered the chance to set sail on this journey I’d always dreamed of. It didn’t take long for me to accept the offer. I wanted to experience new challenges in my work as a photographer, and this voyage presented a unique set of them for someone like me, who likes jumping across rocks, skipping over puddles or climbing trees to find a new perspective, and to experiment with composition. Placing myself at the will of a sea captain who would take me wherever he (or the sea) wanted, was a challenge that I couldn’t pass up. Because, believe me, your camera is the only thing that you have absolute control of when you’re on a boat. And having the entire range of M.Zuiko lenses at my disposal gave me the adaptability I needed at every single moment. Every single one of my lenses was necessary at some point in the journey.

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 25mm 1:1.8 • 1:1.2 • 1/800s • ISO 400

There are so many things I could highlight from my log book! I’ve learned something over time: it’s worth writing down every feeling you experience when you travel somewhere. The camera can show us part of the journey, but when we use words, we can delve into and immerse ourselves in our deepest emotions.

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40‑150mm 1:2.8 PRO • 1:3.5 • 1/1600s • ISO 200

In 1615, two Dutch ships decided not to enter the Strait of Magellan and opted instead to explore the unknown lands south of the Tierra del Fuego, in an effort to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. One of the ships, the Hoorn, was lost at sea due to the raging winds. The other one continued southward, crossing for the first time what Francis Drake had mentioned decades earlier—the passage that today bears his name. That’s where we were headed: Drake Passage. It’s one of the most legendary places in the history of sailing and is also famous for having some of the most turbulent weather in the world.
My watch starts to go off at midnight, but I don’t remember setting an alarm. I read the screen. It’s the second time during this trip that I’ve received this message: “Storm Warning.” But this time, the weather conditions are deteriorating rapidly, and the command center advises us to brace for the worst. We can expect 100-km per hour winds and twelve-meter waves at the worst possible moment: right when we’d be located between Antarctica and Tierra del Fuego. How many ships might be resting on the bottom of this huge ocean? Today, I decide to stop reading about sea battles and shipwrecks and to instead climb up to the deck to get some fresh air. I come from a place that’s famous for the wind generated by the Ebro Valley when it meets the sea, but what I experience when I open the hatch on level six is something completely out of this world. I step out wearing corduroy pants and a jacket, and only manage to stay out there long enough to see the first wave crash. The cold is sharp and biting. It’s snowing, and the drops that the ocean sends up when it crashes against the boat feel like crystals that pound themselves into your face.

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 300mm 1:4.0 IS PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/2000s • ISO 200

It’s impossible to see what’s in front of you. You grab onto whatever you can, on account of the paralyzing fear of falling overboard and the minuscule odds of survival. I go back inside to take refuge from the water and look for Juan, my companion. I put on my waterproof gear, several layers of clothes for warmth, ski goggles, gloves and grab the lenses and several rags to dry off the material. I know it won’t be easy, but I want to experience it. When the worst of it comes, I surely won’t be able to go outside, much less take pictures. This time, I have a much harder time opening the hatch door. I’m glad to have packed so much into my backpack because it feels like I might need the weight to not get blown away. I tie the backpack to the railing and look out into the distance. I quickly take out the camera and set the focus point to the center of the lower part of the boat, right where it meets the prow. In less than three seconds, the lens is covered in ice and water. Once again, I take cover and gaze outward, waiting for the next wave.

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40‑150mm 1:2.8 PRO • 1:2.8 • 1/1250s • ISO 200

After several hours, I get used to this, and I can sense when a big wave is coming. You feel your heart pounding away in your throat, and then it’s time: 1, 2...summon your courage, then comes the sound, and then, water! The waves are unpredictable and are eight meters high at this point. If they keep rising at this rate, I can’t stay out here. I take several bursts of pictures. Soon I’m completely drenched, as if I’d dived right into that untamable sea. I can’t see anything. My camera can withstand one more adventure, but I can’t, nor can my hands or eyes, which can’t see a thing. I can’t hear my camera’s shutter, but it feels like the photo bursts are infinite and that I’ve frozen every instant of every wave that I’ve decided to immortalize.

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12‑100 1:4.0 IS PRO • 1:7.1 • 1/1000s • ISO 200

The image stabilization turned out to be one of the camera’s most essential features throughout the trip, making it one of the most precise machines that I’ve ever used for my photography. I feel the salt on my face, and when I brush it off with my gloves, I get wool in my eyes. I yell and lift my arms up into the wind. I feel more alive than ever and I’m overwhelmed by the sensation of being unstoppable. My camera and I have survived being inundated by the equivalent of several liters of water. My camera continues responding, but my fingers don’t. They are trembling, and I am unable to review the pictures I’ve taken. But the smile on my face convinces me that, yes, I’ve got it. These pictures will be with me forever, just like the stories I’ll tell when I get back home.

Photographer profile: Alvaro Sanz

E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12‑100 1:4.0 IS PRO • 1:4.0 • 1/1000s • ISO 400

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