The Evolution of Peter Mather’s Photography

Yukon photographer Peter Mather arrived in Old Crow last spring. He was here to finish a project he’d been working on for three years.

For nearly 20 years Mather has been photographing the beauty and wonder of the Yukon; his photos are evidence of his love for the North.

Mather was raised in the Yukon; the wilderness played a huge role in his upbringing,” Mather recalls. “Our family was always planning a new adventure. My parents brought me up with the outdoor spirit. I lived half my childhood summers in a tent camping with my family.”

Mather continued living adventurously.

He saw a slideshow of images from the Peel River Watershed while attending university in 1994. The images were taken by Yukon adventurer and environmentalist Ken Madsen, and they inspired Mather. Under Madsen’s tutelage Mather began his journey into photography.

Mather travelled the Yukon for 14 years creating distinct and alluring images of nature, but three years ago his perception of photography changed. He entered a new level when he got to work for National Geographic photojournalist Paul Nicklen.

After he met Nicklen, Mather focused on photojournalism:

“I would now take 4000 pictures but I would only process 40, and then I would only use five that showed emotion.”

Still, photojournalism didn’t make his past work irrelevant.

“They were beautiful images of nature, but were separated and unlinked,” Mather says of his previous images. “Perhaps the best way to describe them is that they were beautiful but didn’t tell a story.”

The move to photojournalism sharpened Mather’s skills, and gave deeper weight and deeper meaning to his photos. Mather admits that now he has to work harder to tell the proper story. Despite the increased effort, he enjoys the change. He credits his photojournalistic perspective with better photos, increased sales, and a career jumpstart.

Mather is currently working on a photo-story entitled People of the Caribou. In it, he documents the life cycle of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, and the lifestyle of the Gwich’in people.

The idea was sitting in front of Mather for a long time; he had been a teacher in Old Crow.

When he finished, he kept returning for 13 years to photograph caribou, and to work on environmental issues, such as threats to caribou calving grounds.

Mather started touring threatened calving areas in Alaska with a Gwich’in spokesman. He showed slideshows about protecting the calf line.

“One day I was looking for a story to sink my teeth into, and the story about the Gwich’in was just sitting in front of me,” said Mather.

He suspects it will take three years or more to tell a proper story. Ultimately, Mather wants to make a book about these issues, partnering his photos with Gwich’in narration.

Mather doesn’t intend to slow down after People of the Caribou.

“There are a number of Yukon stories I want to work on, he says. “I’d like to do a story on the disappearing salmon of the Yukon Watershed. The salmon on the Takhini River used to turn the river red, but now they are nearly gone. I’d like to see the efforts to cover the salmon runs, and I’d like to tell that story.

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