It was a big year in 2019 for Paul Nicklen, who was recently given the Order of Canada and earlier inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame.
The Nanoose Bay photographer has worked for National Geographic on assignments around the globe. He’s been a photographer since the mid-1990s, when he was in his twenties.
Nicklen is also the co-founder of an ocean conservation organization called SeaLegacy, which he started with his partner, Cristina Mittermeier. The organization aims to educate people about the state of oceans while trying to catalyze lasting change. He quit his job as a wildlife biologist before working with National Geographic, something he knew he always wanted to do.
“I knew I wanted to work for National Geographic, but I don’t think I thought about much beyond that. I did everything I could to make it happen; I quit my job as a wildlife biologist with the government in the Northwest Territories, and I ended up in a really low place after that. I was angry with the world. I was miserable and depressed,” he said in an email to the NEWS. “I started goal-setting, and I eventually ended up under the mentorship of Flip Nicklin, the great whale photographer, and Joel Sortore.”
Now, Nicklen has six million Instagram followers and a successful TED talk under his belt. Still, he says being given the Order of Canada and being given a place in the International Photography Hall of Fame are overwhelming honours.
“For the International Photography Hall of Fame, I was overwhelmed just to be standing amongst the other inductees. They are amazing people that I’ve always looked up to. It was all very humbling. I had to pinch myself a few times,” he said. “I know that awards like the Order of Canada are not given away lightly. This acknowledgment will allow me to take politicians and corporate leaders to task on the issues that Canadians care about more than I could before.”
Nicklen points to SeaLegacy as a priority alongside his photography.
“Things are going very well with SeaLegacy. We just finished an end-of-year campaign that resulted in 1,000 new people joining The Tide. The Tide is SeaLegacy’s monthly subscription program where members get exclusive, behind-the-scenes insight into our work,” he said. “We can’t take everyone on an expedition with us, but this is close!”
In terms of his goals for 2020, Nicklen said he wants to continue being vocal about what he cares about, while using his photography to get his message across.
“I am going to keep speaking out, standing up and using my art to break down the walls of apathy. My goal is to do what we’re already doing but bigger, with more impact and in a way that reaches more of the global population.”