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A Photographer’s Lens on Alaska

Photographer Jake Stangel shot the photos for Edward Readicker-Henderson’s Alaska feature “The Inside Passage,” in the March/April 2012 issue. About the photo of the waves, above, he says “I spent a lot of time outside on the decks of the boat, in part to escape from “cruise life” but more to experience the wonderment of being on a heavy boat slowly beating its way through the ocean, violently parting the choppy waters without noise or movement, sending up giant plumes of glistening, salty spray near the bow of the boat. It felt like I was on a giant, slowly moving pier expanding hundreds of miles beyond land.”

Here are some more outtakes from his shoot. 

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This was our maid. Her name was Eunice. She was from Mozambique. We met on a boat in Alaska. When she was a teenager she went to get a degree in hospitality in South Africa, then she found work on the boat, where she was offered a position as a maid, even with a degree. Which struck me as both sad and strange.

The rooms my assistant Kyle and I stayed in were near the bow of the boat, and we often saw Eunice cleaning the rooms along the narrow hallway leading to our berth. Early in the trip, she would stop what she was doing and ask us—as if Kyle and I were royalty—”was everything prepared to your satisfaction?” We always emphatically, quizzically, uncomfortably replied “yes, of course.” We just wanted to make her happy and prove we weren’t aristocracy. Though I’ve probably stayed in hundreds of hotel rooms, I never felt this close to being the arbiter of servitude, in a way that made me supremely uncomfortable. So a couple days later, Kyle and I started putting up “do not disturb” signs on our doors, as a way to create less work for Eunice.

Shortly after we hung up our door hangers, Eunice started to become noticeably colder to Kyle and I. We finally reasoned that she felt we didn’t trust her, especially because she knew we were photographers and had expensive equipment in our rooms. Eventually, I talked to Eunice halfway through the trip, explaining that neither Kyle or I were used to this level of service in our lives, that it felt jarring to us, and that we were simply trying to make less work for her. After a fascinating conversation about her background, her education, her goals, and where she would like to travel in the world (New York topped the list), she said she had to get back to work. I didn’t want to cut the moment short, so before she began cleaning the next room, I asked if I could take a portrait of her. After finishing the room she was cleaning, she met me outside on the deck for a few minutes and I took this image. I love this photograph. It might be my favorite from the trip; it certainly means the most to me. Though Eunice wears a maid’s uniform, everything this woman represents—power, confidence, grace, promise—is held above it, in her face.

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This photo was taken the second we boarded the ship in Vancouver, shot from the top of our boat looking out at another one. Both ships were throwing departure parties; you could hear the jazzy tunes wafting over from the other boat, almost overtaken by the Philippino band from our boat, playing American classics. Our boat had employees in white windbreakers with teal accents passing out medium-quality champagne. Their boat had a tepid dance party. A lot of us were watching them, a lot of them were watching us. Spectacle on spectacle.

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This was shot in the morning from my bed on the second to last day of the trip. I ate all the chocolates, left all the fruit. Luckily my camera was on the floor next to me, or else this picture would have never happened. But I’m really glad it did.

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All these cakes look really pretty and they all have fancy names, but they all taste the same, and by same, I mean they tasted like sugar and white flour.

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While the inside of the boat was “happening,” the ship was always, always, always passing through the most remarkable scenery. In fact, every time I went back inside the boat, I felt like I was missing out on something spectacular. It was like FOMO (fear of missing out), nature style. I would sometimes post up with a long lens on the bow of the boat for hours, inhaling the fresh ocean air, witnessing the glory of this annexed state, the complexity, the rugged features, and untouched isolation of it all. Then I went back for more crab.