Nature and wildlife photographer Michel Rawicki grew up in Paris, but he has always been attracted to icy landscapes.

He tells MNN that the "call of the cold" appeared when he was 10 years old. He was in the Valley of Chamonix where he discovered the ice cave in the Aiguille du Midi mountain.

"I took the ice in my arms ... and started photographing with my Kodak Starflash Brownie," he tells MNN in an email.

Enthralled by people, animals and icy panoramas, Rawicki said from early childhood he really wanted to photograph polar bears — known by the Inuit indigenous people as "nanuk."

"The encounter with Nanuk has always been in my dreams since I am a kid," Rawicki writes. "In 1992, I had the same chance to discover Greenland and walk on the ice cap; it was also the year when I first meet and photographed Nanuk."

polar bear in the snow
Relaxing in the snow (Photo: Michel Rawicki/'Polar Bears')

After several decades photographing his favorite subjects, Rawicki shares his images in "Polar Bears: A Life Under Threat," published by ACC Art Books. The beautifully illustrated book contains gorgeous photos of bears playing, lolling, hunting and walking on the ice.

Rawicki says on land, he is only about 100 meters (110 yards) away from the bears. When photographing them by sea, he's often even closer.

Rawicki shot the photos throughout Alaska, Canada, Norway, Greenland and the Arctic Ocean.

polar bear peeks out of snow
A polar bear peeks out of the snow. (Photo: Michel Rawicki/'Polar Bears')

After decades of shooting in the cold, he typically is prepared and knows what to expect.

"By chance I am not chilly, except when the temperature reaches minus 40/50 C (minus 40/minus 58 F)," Rawicki says.

"Sometimes it is difficult to shoot with polar gloves, that is why I had a serious frostbite and [managed] to lose a finger some years ago in Canada by an amazing 'Northern light night.' Also in 2012, I fell down in the water as I was walking on the ice approaching a baby seal off the Canadian coast north of the Saint Laurent River. I then unfortunately learned to 'swim as a seal.' "

polar bear full moon
Polar bear under a full moon (Photo: Michel Rawicki/'Polar Bears')

Because he has been shooting in the Arctic for so long, Rawicki has observed first-hand how polar ice has changed over the years.

"According to scientists, the Arctic sea ice has lost nearly 30% since the 1990s," he says. "Between 1995 and 2006, I saw the pack ice recede north by several hundred kilometers."

polar bear with cubs
A mother lounges with her cubs. (Photo: Michel Rawicki/'Polar Bears')

Rawicki says he hopes to create images of special, gentle moments.

"It's having the privilege to capture and share private moments of great emotion because everything not shared or given is lost," he says.
polar bear rolls in the snow
A bear rolls in the snow. (Photo: Michel Rawicki/'Polar Bears')

Rawicki explains what he feels is his job as a photographer.

"To be aware of the changes taking place and to testify to the beauty of this fragile world."
polar bear in greenery
A polar bear is tucked in some greenery. (Photo: Michel Rawicki/'Polar Bears')
polar bear cubs follow their mother
Polar bear cubs follow their mother. (Photo: Michel Rawicki/'Polar Bears')

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.