The man who showed us all the true threat in the Arctic

by John Novis

September 27, 2013

A Russian Coast guard officer is seen pointing a knife at a Greenpeace International activist as five activists attempt to climb the 'Prirazlomnaya,' an oil platform operated by Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom platform in Russias Pechora Sea. This is one example of the disproportionate use of force by the Russian authorities during a peaceful protest. The activists are there to stop it from becoming the first to produce oil from the ice-filled waters of the Arctic.

© Denis Sinyakov / Greenpeace

A photo is key when it comes to bearing witness and Greenpeace has been a leading organization in visuals for more than forty years. We go to the frontline of environmental issues to see for ourselves what is happening so that we can show others.

The marriage between Greenpeaces campaign knowledge and resources (that include its iconic ships) and world-class freelance photographers has led to many important and previously untold –stories coming into the public domain.

When I first sawDenis Sinyakov’swork I was really impressed. This was in 2010 when he had been commissioned by Greenpeace Russia to shoot inMyslyumovo,one of Russias most lethal nuclear dumping grounds. He was working for Reuters at the time and went on to do side projects for Greenpeace in Siberia that included documenting theIndigenous People the Yamalo-Nenets,theRosneft oil spilland our uniquepolar bear actions.So last year, when I was tasked with finding a Russian photographer to cover the2012 Gazprom protest– Denis was the hands down choice.

Sinyakov is now among the nearly 30 international activists currently retained in Russia after a peaceful protest to stop climate change. Greenpeace traveled to the Russian Arctic with its ship the Arctic Sunrise to raise awareness about reckless oil drilling by Gazprom and other companies looking to profit from the melting Arctic.

At Greenpeace International, we have a talent pool of twenty world-class freelance photographers. Denis cemented his spot in this group with his work last year during thePrirazlomnaya action.He was a true journalist filing on time despite the challenges of working on a ship in the choppy, icy Arctic waters. Well liked among the Greenpeace International crew and activists on board, he showed himself to be a tough and tenacious freelancer. This has been echoed in, what I see, as his clarity of mind in the Murmansk court yesterday.He is a journalist and he will continue to be a journalist.

Freelance photographers who have in the past been commissioned by Greenpeace International have gone on to win top industry awards.Nick Cobbingwon a World Press Photo award for his Scientists in the Arctic feature, as didPaul Hiltonfor his shark fin picture andDaniel Beltrfor his Amazon drought and deforestation images.

All three won their awards for the Nature and Environment section, but there is an even more prestigious World Press Photo category the Spot News Award. Greenpeace-commissioned freelance photographerLu Guangwon this coveted prize in 2010 for his pictures of an oilspill caused by a pipeline blast at the Dalian Port in China.

The image Denis took on September 18th2013that many of us have seen in the papers or online is striking, exposing the oil industry for what it truly is. This photograph is a testament to his professionalism, skill and journalistic nature.

In my professional opinion, as Head of Photography for Greenpeace International, it is powerful because it is a picture of a threat in a bizarre environment; weve all seen photos of guns in the context of a conflict or in a blurred CCTV screen grab, but his image is from the waters of the Arctic. He captured a moment so dynamic that there is no way it could have been organized or manipulated. And for this, I believe it has the potential to win the World Press Photos Spot News Award.

Denis is a highly regarded freelance photographer in his homeland of Russia. This is marked by the dismay of the countrys photo community at his detention by the Russian authorities in Murmansk.Several Russian media outletshave decided not to publish photos today in protest, or are showing black boxes instead of photos. Like Greenpeace, Denis was bearing witness to an issue that needs to be in the public domain. I, like so many others, call for hisimmediate release along with the crew of the Arctic Sunrise.

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