From inside the world’s largest cave to an up-close view of an active lava lake, Carsten Peter took us on a journey of exploration in 2011.
In 1967, a group of photographers gathered in a small office at National Geographic headquarters to check in with each other after the holidays—and to look at and talk about their work. Within a few years that informal gathering grew into National Geographic’s annual Photo Seminar, a day-long celebration of the medium that was attended by more than 500 people this year.
A high point of the event is called Works in Progress, an invitation-only session in which photographers who are currently active with the magazine show their recent work—Geographic-related or not. Prior to this show, photographer George Steinmetz presented the National Geographic Photographers’ Photographer Award. The honor is decided by the magazine’s photographers and is bestowed upon one of their own who “has most inspired us by expanding the possibilities of our medium.” This year’s winner is Carsten Peter.
A member of the expedition walks on the caldera’s cooled lava floor, turned red by the reflected glow of Nyiragongo volcano’s lava lake.
Photographer Carsten Peter tests a thermal suit in Nyiragongo volcano. “It can protect you from the radiant heat, but if you get hit with a lava splatter, the force will likely kill you,’ he says.
Constant bubbling sends waves of lava lapping over the rim of Nyiragongo’s lava lake.
With temperatures around 1800°F, the lava lake is wildly erratic. As molten rock meets the air, it cools and forms plates on the lake's surface.
A canyoneer endures the deluge of a waterfall in Empress Canyon. Canyoneers say even a relatively easy rappel like this one can feel like drowning in midair.
A canyoneer descends by rope through one of Kanangra Main Canyon’s three 150-foot waterfalls.
Midday shafts of light intensify the cathedral-like atmosphere of Rocky Creek Canyon.
A giant cave column swagged in flowstone towers over explorers swimming through the depths of Hang Ken, one of 20 new caves discovered last year in Vietnam.
A half-mile block of 40-story buildings could fit inside this lit stretch of Hang Son Doong, which may be the world’s biggest subterranean passage.
Hang Son Doong’s airy chambers sprout life where light enters from above—a different world from the bare, cramped, pitch-black spaces familiar to most cavers.
Navigating an algae-skinned maze, expedition organizers Deb and Howard Limbert lead the way across a sculpted cavescape in Hang Son Doong.
George said of Carsten, “Nowadays, when you can open up Google Earth on your iPhone and see a satellite view of every corner of the Earth, people feel that there is nothing left to explore. But this photographer proves them to be dead wrong on virtually every assignment.”
Read George’s full comments here.
Carsten Peter recently gave a presentation for National Geographic’s NG Live. Watch his lecture on “Vietnam’s Infinite Cave” here. And catch his interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm here.
Experience more of Carsten’s photography at www.carstenpeter.com,
or become a fan of his on Facebook.
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