Wind howling into the hungry mouth of an icy cave; skates carving the untouched ice of an alpine lake; a climber’s silhouette under the curve of a glowing comet tail. The dynamic photography of Paul Zizka excites our inner adventurer.
Flipping through his immense body of work transports you to wilderness destinations around the globe, from the penguin-laden icebergs of the Antarctic to the perilous cliffs of the Faroese coast. If you dig a little deeper, his images will take you off the beaten path to remote summits, roaring waterfalls, and secret ice caves witnessed only by a daring few.
Paul’s photography reveals a drive to explore and capture the “under-documented” with a fresh perspective. Simultaneously, his images offer a window into his intimate relationship with adventure and the landscapes they unfold in.
Though Paul has chosen to call Banff—the only Canadian town inside a national park—his home, he did not always know these mountains. Born and raised in Quebec, his first passion was ice hockey until a serious concussion forced him to consider other directions.
Paul only became acquainted with the Canadian Rockies by working a summer gig at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, situated on the shores of Bow Lake and tucked amidst the hanging glaciers of the Icefields Parkway. As Paul ventured into the surrounding wilderness, he discovered an unknown world with endless possibilities. It became routine for Paul to return to the lodge with only a few minutes to spare before shifts, hair matted from scrambling atop windy peaks.
Paul relied on a point-and-shoot camera to share these wilderness experiences with friends and family back home, becoming increasingly fascinated by the interplay between light, weather, and landscape. He bought his first DSLR in 2007 and dove into full-time photography three years later.
Born with insatiable wanderlust, Paul has visited each of Canada’s provinces and territories and summited countless peaks. His drive to explore also extends far beyond home. His travels have taken him to Greenland, Svalbard, Ethiopia, Fiji, Polynesia, Niue, Nepal, Mongolia, Antarctica, and many other remote corners of the globe. He has even completed an unsupported 1400-kilometre double-crossing of Iceland on foot in 2004 (believed to be the first of its kind) and a 1488-kilometre solo crossing of New Zealand in 2007.
Wherever Paul roams, he is dedicated to capturing the spirit of adventure. Paul is known for seeking out fleeting natural wonders, such as methane bubbles trapped in frozen lakes, and staying up to capture what the world misses while it sleeps. Paul is recognized widely for his astrophotography, a practice that developed as he spent more time camping beneath starry skies.
“What struck me was how right it felt to finally establish a relationship with the sky. For me, so much of it is about perspective. You’re out there looking at things that are so old, so big, so far away. It puts your own life and your own little issues into perspective.”
Paul often adds a human element to the vast and dreamy landscapes he captures to give a sense of perspective and reinforce humankind’s connection to these places.
“It has become increasingly apparent to me that humans have become disconnected from the natural environment, from where we originated eons ago,” Paul says. “We have, essentially, walked away from nature. From this emerges a new sense of purpose for me: the possibility to invite people to go back to the wilderness through my images, and to be reminded of what the natural world adds to one’s life.”
Many of Paul’s self-portraits depict a lone human figure gazing up at an aurora-cloaked sky. Due to the solitary nature of his remote adventures, Paul often resorts to placing himself in the frame to capture his version of a “selfie”. While this increases the difficulty of pulling off the shot, these challenging, technical, and imaginative self-portraits are precisely the type of image that gets Paul excited.
In the time I’ve spent with Paul, both working in his living room and hiking double-time to keep up on a 60-kilometre 3-day backcountry “stroll”, I’ve never heard him mention his accomplishments, awards, or accolades. Yet, his work has appeared in National Geographic, Alpinist, The Guardian, Canadian Geographic, Outdoor Photographer, and many more publications. His client list includes Canon, Arc’Teryx, MEC, Apple, and Travel Alberta. He has led workshops globally as the co-founder of OFFBEAT and is also the co-author of seven books showcasing his photography.
Paul has spent these pandemic months close to home and delving into deeper, more remote parts of Banff National Park. He completed the third ascent of Mount Saint Bride, one of the most challenging peaks in the Rockies, and delivered artifacts from a previous ascent to the Whyte Museum in Banff. In addition to pushing his limits as an explorer, he also continues to push the limits of his photography—all between bike rides, hikes, and lake skates with his wife Meghan and their two daughters.
Driven to explore for the sake of exploring, Paul continues to create images that reveal the vast and under-documented marvels awaiting our discovery.
“My hope is that through my photography, people will rediscover the precious connection they can have with the wonders of our planet, and that this crucial connection will remain strong for generations to come.”
For more photography, follow Paul Zizka on Instagram and Facebook, learn about upcoming photography workshops, browse his limited edition prints, or visit zizka.ca.