The filmmaking feats and photographic treats of our American friends on the Kuril expedition.

I’ve already mentioned a few times that we had a few American friends along for the ride adventure in the Far East, and that I’d be ‘getting to them’ later on. Well that later on has arrived!…

So who were these folks from the U. S. of A. (and a few other countries), who traveled with me and my regular expeditioners?

First up – Mr. Chris Burkard, the very famous and very successful photographer of all things extreme, distant, fantastic – often and preferably all three at the same time. He’d heard lots about the Kurils, and had long dreamed of exploring and snapping them. So one day, while researching the islands on the internet, he couldn’t help but come across my blog and ephoto-albums, since there probably is no other blogger/amateur photographer who’s written and snapped the islands more than moi. I mean – really, you can’t avoid Me & D.Z. and Co. on the net if you search for anything Kuril-related: if you simply put in the name of a Kuril volcano into Google Images – a ton of our holiday snaps come up toward the top of the list!

Chris had also told his friend and colleague, Renan Ozturk, about his dreams of getting to the Kurils one day. Now, Renan, by a fortunate coincidence, had been invited to the start of our skiing expedition to the North Pole in April 2018. There, Renan had met our P.T. – in charge of such events – and told him prior to embarking on the North Pole mission about how much he and a friend of his (Chris) wanted to see the Kurils (all this: textbook ‘organic networking’ perhaps more than fortunate coincidences:). P.T., in turn, told Renan how – as per another fortunate coincidence? – me and my usual posse of extreme travelers were planning a trip to the Kurils the following year. Finally, completing the circle, my frequent extreme travel companion, olly_ru, had had for a while the idea of inviting extreme blogger-photographer-travelers on a Kurils expedition.

So that’s how the stars aligned initially. Next there was a long period writing up plans, budgets, even contracts, apparently; thankfully I have K-folks who look after all that. I think the one thing that was done real quick was my agreeing to have along with us the photographer-bloggers and other scientists and photographers – all Americans, and also, later on, the zoologist and Pacific seals expert Vladimir Burkanov. I’ll be introducing each here a little later…

Eventually, after all the planning, the expedition was all finalized – with its own hashtag even: #FromKurilsWithLove (Russian), Instagram, and Twitter. And for detail, there’s the Tomorrow Unlocked From Kurils with Love page – well worth checking.

Here are some of our American guests, hard at work ->

And finally – those long-overdue introductions:

Renan Ozturk – traveler and photographer, cinematographer and landscape artist; has worked plenty for National Geographic; legendary expedition climber; and one of the world’s top extreme (high-altitude) documentary makers. Developed together with P.T. the idea for the #FromKurilsWithLove expedition, which he took part in as director of photography and co-director.

Here he is talking about the Kurils:

View this post on Instagram

The dream is real! Lots of team work, suffering with back wrenching loads, and a once in a lifetime weather window all came together for us to shoot Onekatan yesterday here in the remote Kuril Islands. We gave it everything we had for 40 hours, with very little sleep, food and water, experiencing the highest highs and lowest lows (see @chrisburkard’s current post about his drone). At this point we are feeling some heavy afterglow that will last a lifetime! ~ Currently we are all safe back on the boat headed south with a marine mammal expert @vnbkam who had decades of experience studying marine mammals in this region to witness he aftermath of a recent volcanic eruption that might have wiped out a sea lion rookery and one of his long term time-lapse cameras. Vladimir said that sea lions populations are down by 80% since the 1980’s and he is working hard to figure out the reasons why. Stay tuned… #fromKurilsWithLove @taylorfreesolo @jtkerby @tedhesser @rishisugla @tomorrow_unlocked @e_kaspersky @povel @_ryanhill_ @alejandroarango13 @ollyru999 @donreverendo

A post shared by Renan Ozturk (@renan_ozturk) on

View this post on Instagram

Missing this place and all the thoughtful team members // Poweful words by @rishisugla “As we made our way down the footpath that crisscrossed long abandoned Soviet military roads and rusted iron barrels, we marveled over the chance to see this site rarely unmasked by cloud. Places like this, when they allow themselves to be seen, make easy claims that they deserve our care and attention. And maybe that’s what this place was asking us for. As my group made a final descent down to the black beach, built up slowly through millennia of breaking down basalt into sand, I wondered about other places rendered invisible not by fog but by other means. Places and people with beauty not of the jaw dropping variety that can make people stop at first sight, but those of a more subtle kind of aesthetic. Ones imbued with history and culture, from microbes to humans, that aren’t so easily captured by footage. For groundwater sitting for millennia beneath the surface. For worms sifting through soil. How do we lift the fog and remind ourselves of their beauty too? So we can not only care about places like this, which are worth our attention and heart, but for that which transcends the physical in ways much more difficult to explain.” #fromkurilswithlove @taylorfreesolo @chrisburkard @_ryanhill_ @tedhesser @povel @alejandroarango13 @jtkerby @e_kaspersky @ollyru999 #climatechange #ecology #oceans #writing #volcanoes #nature

A post shared by Renan Ozturk (@renan_ozturk) on

View this post on Instagram

Words by @taylorfreesolo // The origin story of #fromKurilswithLove and our rag tag crew of vagabonds began when @renan_ozturk was documenting a North Pole expedition with @povel @tomorrow_unlocked. The two schemed up an adventure of a life time to the Kurils. Actually, rewind. Years prior, the @chrisburkard in his relentless search for beauty was scouring the interwebs for photos of this place. Many of those photos were taken by @e_kaspersky himself, the cyber security expert who has an exuberant love for the Kurils and spearheaded the trip. Together they began to assemble a crew for the expedition. That’s where I came in. I wondered if there might be an opportunity to add to the mission of creating epic imagery. Perhaps we could connect real and rigorous scientific perspectives and thus contribute to the efforts of establishing the Kurils as a Marine Protected Area through our stories. I wanted to bring in a “jack of all trades” oceanographer (@rishisugla) who could speak to the health of the marine ecosystem, dive with cameras, and had a desire to communicate the complexities of why, in an era of climate change, traveling this far to tell stories was important and how we could make it worthwhile. For terrestrial communication, no one better than @jtkerby. Jeff and I have been friends since we were in the same arctic climate change ecology lab at PennState. He’s an expert at using drone technology for mapping landscapes and changes in plant biomass – super important data for tracking climate impacts. He’s also a @natgeo photographer and science communicator extraordinare. Aerial magician @_ryanhill_ came aboard as 1st mate to Chris. Free-style rapper and photographer @tedhesser joined as AC to Renan. The unexpected stowaway @bigdaddivladi (Vladimir Burkanov) was a gift from the heavens, a marine mammal scientist who has studied sea lions here for over 30 years. I’m here to herd cats (boys with drones), follow the thru lines of this soon-to-be-film and help direct our cameras and microphones towards the moments of introspection and outrospectrion on the Kurils. On what they are teaching us about mama Earth as a whole and our place in it. Stay tuned : )

A post shared by Renan Ozturk (@renan_ozturk) on

Taylor Rees. Taylor is crazy into making documentaries on the natural world and protection of the environment. She has an extraordinary gift for telling amazing stories that stick in your mind. Taylor also helped inspire the idea of the #FromKurilsWithLove project, of which she is a producer and co-director along with the others. She also played a key role in the selection of the science commentators for our expedition.

View this post on Instagram

Yesterday we spanned the spectrum from life to death. A morning of exuberant chaos as we followed marine mammal scientist Vladimir Burkanov to count the sea lion and fur seal populations on a nearby rookery, and then to Raikoke where sadly the sea lion colony did not survive the eruption. There were a few lone males on the rocks but all the females and pups were gone. The colony went from perhaps 1,000 sea lions to 30, if that. It would be impossible for the pups to have survived as they were only a few weeks old and can’t swim. In addition, thousands of birds circled the ash covered terrain in search of spots to build new homes. Against all odds though, life does prevail in any way it can. The first photo is a fur seal pup from a healthy rookery : ) #fromkurilswithlove #survival @chrisburkard @renan_ozturk @jtkerby @tedhesser @rishisugla @tomorrow_unlocked @e_kaspersky @povel @_ryanhill_ @alejandroarango13 @ollyru99 @donreverendo @vnbkam

A post shared by Taylor Rees (@taylorfreesolo) on

Chris Burkard – already mentioned in a previous post, Chris is one of the world’s most famous landscape photographers, with three-and-a-half million (!) Instagram followers! He was one of the first supporters of the #FromKurilsWithLove project. But, paradoxically, since his photos and comments were viewed by millions, the tourist industry of Kamchatka and the Kurils may have some trouble coping at first with increased interest in the region given its underdevelopment and low capacity. Btw: Chris and Renan shot terabytes of video during the expedition, so really looking forward to the resulting film!

View this post on Instagram

It’s no secret I like to shoot wide angle.. sometimes the wider the better it seems. It could stem from my days shooting fisheye surf photos or maybe that fact that I love the intimacy and closeness that a wide angle provides. Something about feeling apart of the action or in an earshot or the conversation has always been intriguing. My go to lens has always been the 16-35 F2.8 but I regularly use the 12-24 and even the APS-C mount 10-18mm (even if it vignettes a little) in the Kurils.. we were so close to such big volcanoes that it kinda seemed like the best way to document them. A7r4 + 10-18mm f4 #fromkurilswithlove @renan_ozturk @taylorfreesolo @rishisugla @jtkerby @tomorrow_unlocked

A post shared by ChrisBurkard (@chrisburkard) on

View this post on Instagram

Our boat, The Afina, dwarfed by the scale of active volcanoes & thousands of displaced sea birds carries as many crew as passengers. 24 in total. Sailors, engineers, cook, captain, 1st mate etc etc. all with Russian names we are struggling to pronounce, so often exchange smiles or share coffee we brought to show appreciation. Boats traveling in these rough waters are mandated to carry enough crew in case anything goes wrong. We have been lucky with good weather but their stories & videos of evading storms, waking up to boats covered in ash & weeks of bad weather are horrific. . #FromKurilsWithLove @taylorfreesolo @renan_ozturk @jtkerby @tedhesser @rishisugla @tomorrow_unlocked @povel @_ryanhill_

A post shared by ChrisBurkard (@chrisburkard) on

View this post on Instagram

For some places you can ‘love it to death’ by overexposing it via social media. In the case of this #FromKurilsWithLove film, I thought that may be the case as well and a question we have asked many times to the local director of @WWF in this region and Vladimir Burkanov, the leading scientist who id with us. The response is the same every time. This region needs tourism instead of extractive industries and particularly it needs more funding for ongoing research and protection. The images we are creating are specifically working toward that. This island, Ushishir, as well as many others deserves to be a full on @UNESCO world heritage site. Words & video by @renan_ozturk whom is a must follow. @taylorfreesolo @jtkerby @tedhesser @rishisugla @tomorrow_unlocked @e_kaspersky @povel @_ryanhill_ @alejandroarango13 @ollyru99 @donreverendo @bigdaddivladi ~

A post shared by ChrisBurkard (@chrisburkard) on

View this post on Instagram

I wrote down somewhere that one of my dreams in life has been to photograph an active volcano… I guess I have just seen so many beautiful images of them I figured it would be this transformative experience, but in reality it was actually really eye opening. . Yesterday we arrived at the newly erupted Raikoke island that had literally just exploded week ago. We were the first media team to document it. I had no clue that this island had mostly been cliffs before we arrived .. almost zero sandy beaches. We walked along virgin shores while steam rose through the sand & burnt the soles of our shoes. Ash in the air stung as it entered our lungs & eyes while we walking along what was once a completely green and lush island. (Google what it used to look like) What became very evident was that this volcano had destroyed any chance of life to continue to thrive on the island. Hundreds of thousand of displaced sea birds were in the sky & water with many dead on the beach. Vladimir our Russian scientist on board confirmed that the Sea Lion rookery had been wiped out leaving only a few stubborn males behind, his camera traps and observation hut also buried in ash. Dead seaweed from the changed ocean PH lined the rocks where we took samples of ash. It was altogether beautiful & terrifying. This photograph makes it appear as it has always looked this way but just weeks prior this island was vibrant green & it’s coastline was extremely different. For a deeper look check @taylorfreesolo ‘s post. Shot on @djiglobal Mavic drone. For more see @tomorrow_unlocked @renan_ozturk @rishisugla @jtkerby @povel

A post shared by ChrisBurkard (@chrisburkard) on

Jeff Kirby – ecologist, NatGeo photographer, popular science commentator. Jeff traveled with us as… an Arctic ecosystem expert! Sure, the Kurils are a long way from the Arctic, but the harsh, changeable climate plus the bleak tundra landscapes mean the two locations actually have quite a lot in common.

View this post on Instagram

The lighthouse “Aniva” rises from the southernmost tip of Russia’s Sakhalin Island. Building its impressive seven floors of crew quarters in such an extreme and rugged environment was an engineering feat when it was completed in 1939. Originally constructed by the Japanese, it transitioned to Soviet control after World War II whereupon it was later retrofitted to become a nuclear powered autonomous station. It’s halls are now devoid of human life, with doors to some rooms labeled in Russian as containing hazardous radiation, though this hasn’t stopped hundreds of gulls from colonizing every nook and cranny. I explored these ruins with @rishisugla, @renan_ozturk, and @tedhesser – not paying as much attention to the Russian warning text as perhaps we should have! Our focus was instead overwhelmed by a structure and a setting that oozed character and stories untold. What was life like for the light house keepers? Even during the relatively calm weather of our visit the wind rattled its windows and waves overwhelmed our landing spot. I can’t imagine this place in a storm. Eventually the sun set through the huge glass element that still remains at the tower’s summit before we raced back to our zodiac in the darkness. #FromKurilsWithLove @taylorfreesolo @_ryanhill_ @povel @e_kaspersky @kasperskylab @ollyru999 @tomorrow_unlocked

A post shared by Jeff Kerby (@jtkerby) on

View this post on Instagram

Ushishir Island is a natural wonder of shapes, colors, and geology. Hot springs spew sulphuric steam into the air from the inner rim of the volcanic caldera (right side of image) as mineralized soil erodes into the Pacific on its outer coast. Russian marine scientist Vladimir Burkanov (@bigdaddivladi) took @taylorfreesolo and I on a zodiac trip around the island, revealing not only incredible natural textures, but also signs of its rich human past – from the Ainu that were native to this region to the seal and otter hunters of the late 19th century. Now the island is empty of people apart from the occasional visitor. The view in this photo was short lived, as fog reclaimed the skies after a one day reprieve – more the norm than an exception here. We’re on to new destinations now, but this place will forever be burned into my memory. #FromKurilsWithLove For more views from Ushishir and the Kurils check out @chrisburkard @renan_ozturk @taylorfreesolo @tedhesser @_ryanhill_ @rishisugla @alejandroarango13 @ollyru999 @povel @e_kaspersky @kasperskylab @tomorrow_unlocked

A post shared by Jeff Kerby (@jtkerby) on

Rishi Sugla – Ph.D. to his name, oceanographer, eco-activist, and recently a science communicator. Ocean biodiversity expert. Here’s just one of his Instagram pics – but check it: it’s as biodiverse as it gets!

View this post on Instagram

It's hard to describe the scale of this scene. Sun setting and tens of thousands of auklets dancing in airborne streams over the water. In every direction I turned there they were, celebrating the end of another day. They reminded me that living life with community and collaboration is the best way to make our way forward in this uncertain future. In a way this trip is embelic of that. A mix of artists, scientists , storytellers, and much more working together because we believe in something similar. So many times we live our lives separately, in our own spaces hoping to make the places we care about just a little bit better. I truly believe this team can create the stories and structure to support this place in a way that is palpable. Many thanks to mother nature for the lessons you gift us if we take the time to listen. #fromKurilswithLove @renan_ozturk @taylorfreesolo @chrisburkard @povel @jtkerby @alejandroarango13 @e_kaspersky @bigdaddivlady @tedhesser #nature #climatechange #environment #oceans #community

A post shared by Rishi Sugla (@rishisugla) on

Ryan Hill – the most expert drone operator I’ve ever met. Helped Chris Burkard during film shooting. Was known to occasionally – especially on Ushishir – give out loud yelps of astonishment when viewing what the drone was videoing. Was in charge of a lot of kit!

Ted Hesser – mountain climber and extreme photographer. Helped Renan and Taylor throughout the expedition as assistant cameraman, which included the important job of managing all the raw film data.

View this post on Instagram

A volcano on a lake, inside the caldera of another volcano, floating on an island in the middle of the pacific. This place is just unreal… setting a timelapse up there the other night, I fell asleep on a lush, cushiony hillside, thinking this must be what heaven feels like. • • Internet and computer time are in short supply as we continue our journey across these islands for the next 10 days. Documenting the fragile marine ecosystem with climate change ecologists, and making a documentary film in the process. Making the film is our primary focus, working hard each day with an incredible team of talented friends. • • @chrisburkard @taylorfreesolo @renan_ozturk @e_kaspersky @povel @jtkerby @rishisugla @_ryanhill_ @tomorrow_unlocked

A post shared by Ted Hesser (@tedhesser) on

Vladimir Burkanov – (not American, but included here as a guest specialist on the expedition). Russian zoologist specializing in marine animals of the Far East. Became the anchorman and motivator of the expedition; told many a fascinating and unique tale, and simply a great guy!

View this post on Instagram

Beer mug/Urup Пивная кружка/Уруп

A post shared by Vladimir Burkanov (@bigdaddivladi) on

View this post on Instagram

Last seconds of great day July 9, 2019

A post shared by Vladimir Burkanov (@bigdaddivladi) on

Povel Torudd – the K-employee mentioned above a few times already (‘P.T.’) (also not American; actually Swedish). Shaped the original concept for the expedition together with Renan and Taylor and became its leader; is also an executive producer and producer of the upcoming documentary #FromKurilsWithLove, together with Taylor Rees.

Alejandro Arango – our head of public relations. Any ambitious project such as this – there’s no way he wouldn’t be involved. And it’d be way too boring an ambitious project without him anyway!

Sebastian Andrei – another (non-American) K-employee – a very new one at that. Hired, and next thing he knows – he’s on a extreme Kurils expedition! The definition of ‘in at the deep end’! Respect!

Olga Rumyantseva, aka, olly_ru. One of the more hyper active members of the expedition. Wet-suit ocean snorkeling-diving; thoughtful and helpful guide: experienced traveler to chaperone the inexperienced office lizards ).


So there you have it folks – the full line-up of our special guests on our Kurils-2019-expedition. And all together we made it a fantastic project. Well done all of us!

Make sure you check out the mini-documentaries, short videos and short stories from the expedition at Tomorrow Unlocked. For example, this one here, on all the kit that was needed for the project.

In closing, here’s Chris talking about the expedition:


Here’s Vladimir talking about how modern technology helps the work of a zoologist immensely:


Here’s Rishi on big data protecting wildlife:

Woah – Chris Burkard sent me some of his pics. Oh my grandiose! Yep, I can see why he’s so popular: each pic – a masterpiece. Here he is, btw:

PS: assorted, unsorted pics…


Woah – I’m approaching a hundred Kurils pics in this one post. I think we’ll allow such wanton disregard for conciseness this once. With pics like these – why not?!

Next up – pics by Renan Ozturk and Taylor Rees ->

Krenitsyna volcano:




And here’s a place I still haven’t told you about – but will shortly:

Hope you enjoyed that photo-summary of the extraordinary natural beauty of the Kurils (and the tragic side too – that poor seal with the plastic round its neck). But I’m not done yet! There’ll be more tales from the Kurilian side shortly…

The rest of the photos from our Kuril adventure are here.



Comments 1 Leave a note

    Dave Waterson

    These photos are incredible!
    Having just returned from Galapagos, the Kurils are now on my bucket list.

Leave a note