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GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN (October 8, 2004) - In 2000, award-winning photographer Subhankar Banerjee quit his scientific career and well-paying job at Boeing in Seattle, cashed in his savings, and set off on a personal mission - to document the land, wildlife and indigenous cultures of a pristine corner of the Alaskan wilderness the Gwich'in people call "The Sacred Place Where Life Begins."

Together with his Inupiat guide and friend, Robert Thompson, Banerjee covered over 4,000 miles, traveling on foot, kayak, raft, snowmobile and plane. He lived with and learned from native Gwich'in and Inupiat families and came to understand and appreciate their relationship with a land pulsing with life. "I wanted to capture the essence of a land I saw as grand yet simple, place where the existence of life, including wild flora and fauna and native cultures, is modest and fragile. Employing simple compositions, mostly subdued light of cloudy days and a meditative process of observation, I intended to portray that duality and create a comprehensive visual portrait of the wilderness in all four seasons," says Banerjee. The journey is presented in his stunning book, "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land" published by The Mountaineers Books (Seattle, April 2003).

Banerjee will present a slide lecture at Aquinas College on Monday, October 25 at 7 p.m. in the Aquinas Performing Arts Center, 1703 Robinson Road S.E. The lecture will be followed by a book signing and reception. Luci Beach, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee will be visiting Aquinas with Banerjee. Beach is Gwichyaa Gwich'in (Fort Yukon, Alaska and Vuntut Gwich'in (Old Crow, Canada) and has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Alaska in Rural Development and a master's degree from the University of Arizona in American Indian Studies. The presentation, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Wege Foundation and Aquinas College. Banerjee's photographs are on exhibit at the Grand Rapids Art Museum through November 7.

Banerjee and the book became instantly famous in 2003 when a U.S. Senator, during the congressional debate on whether to allow oil drilling in the refuge, held the book up on the Senate floor. As pro-drilling politicians tried to paint a picture of this area as a barren wasteland devoid of life, Banerjee's photographs provided irrefutable evidence of the refuge's fragile unmatched beauty and rich ecological diversity.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1960 and is among the most complete, pristine and undisturbed ecosystems on Earth. "Here coastal lagoons, barrier islands, Arctic tundra, foothills, mountains and boreal forests provide a combination of habitat, climate and geography unmatched by any other northern conservation area ? conditions that support the Refuge's diverse community of life," states the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The refuge covers 19.5 million acres of land in the Arctic and has sustained two indigenous cultures for over ten thousand years ? the Gwich'in, who live on the south side of the refuge, and the Inupiats, who live on the north side. "Oil drilling is not only an environmental issue, but a human rights issue for these indigenous people," Banerjee said.

The book contains 200 images and original essays by respected voices for the Arctic Refuge, including Peter Matthiessen, David Allen Sibley, George Schaller, Terry Tempest Williams, Fran Mauer, Debbie Miller, Bill Meadows and a forward by President Jimmy Carter. The book was recognized by Discover magazine as one of the top twenty science books of 2003, received the Mountain Image Award at the Banff Mountain Book Festival in 2003, and also won an Independent Book Publishers award in 2004.

Photographs from "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land" have been published in many publications nationally and internationally The New York Times, Washington Post and Lost Angeles Times, ART news, American Photo, Photo District News, Newsweek, Orion, Smithsonian, Audubon, National History, Wildlife Conservation, National Wildlife, Sierra and GEO (Germany and Spain) to name only a few.

Banerjee has received many awards including the first Cultural Freedom Fellowship from the Lannen Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a National Conservation Achievement Award from the National Wildlife Federation, a Special Achievement Award from the Sierra Club, and a Daniel Housberg Award from the Alaska Conservation Foundation.