Where They Stand: Spectators at the Polar Bear Swim


What is everyone looking at? What are they doing over there, heads high, arms extended in the now common gesture of extending memory and vision with a camera phone? A long standing fascination with the culture of spectators means I turn my lens towards the audience at most events I’m covering. Here at the Vancouver Polar Bear Swim on New Year’s Day I came across hundreds, maybe thousands, of people craning their necks and elbowing to the front to catch a glimpse of some 2000+ swimmers braving the 8c water temp in English Bay. From behind, the sky was featureless and grey, the only colour coming from the jackets and hats of those still bundled up, happy to watch the festivities from on high.

At the sound of the bell, while swimmers jostled for position to slip into the Pacific, a wave of hands rose from the crowd and milliseconds were captured, posted and shared within seconds. It’s hard to take a photo in the busy city these days without seeing the familiar smartphone shuffle somewhere in the frame and it’s damn near impossible to attend an event of any kind without having a phone, or worse an iPad, suddenly blocking the view. At concerts it’s appalling, here outside at a festival it’s mostly quick snaps and back to the hot chocolate. It’s a little surreal to be three rows deep and find yourself instead of tip-toeing for a view, content to watch the drama unfold pixel by pixel on a tablet near you. Was it live? Were you a witness?

Vancouver, 2014.

(please click to view large – recommended)

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