MSU Photographer Earns National Honor

STARKVILLE, Miss.–A hungry polar bear dogpaddles through icy Arctic waters to get to land and hunt for seals. A Mississippi State University amateur photographer snaps a shot.

That picture, taken in 2011 on a National Geographic Expedition trip to the northernmost archipelago of Norway — Svalbard — has become an Internet sensation by being named a finalist in the National Geographic Expeditions 2012 Photo Contest, available at

By day, Walter Diehl is an MSU professor of biological science, associate dean for research and graduate studies for the College of Arts and Sciences, and interim head of the Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures. However, when he leaves campus to travel around the world, Diehl is taking photographs of animals, landscapes, architecture and ruins.

“We were watching a polar bear from the icecap, and the boat was trying to keep up with the bear,” Diehl recalled. “All of a sudden, I noticed a commotion in the water off the port side of the ship, and I thought at first it was a walrus because that was what we had seen in the water more than anything else.

“But I looked over there and said, ‘No, that’s a polar bear,’ so I shot the photo. We watched the bear come to the ice pack, and it climbed out. We watched that bear for another 30 minutes, and then somebody made a noise and it ran off.”

Diehl is no stranger to photography: He’s shot pictures informally since he was in high school, and his interest started to intensify approximately six years ago when he and his wife started traveling, especially internationally.

He got newer, better gear and started reading books about photography to learn more about the formal elements of what makes a great picture. Diehl has been attending workshops to learn from professionals, and when he travels, he applies what he’s learned.

Taking an artistic shot, immortalizing something nobody’s ever seen — that’s the way to move people with a photograph, Diehl said.

“Seeing a polar bear swimming with the wake trailing behind it, I think it’s not something that National Geographic’s seen. I haven’t seen a photo like that in any of the other photos posted on their website over the years. I thought it was one of the better artistic photos that I shot,” Diehl said.

While being named a finalist in National Geographic Expeditions 2012 Photo Contest is the most prestigious award Diehl has received for one of his photographs, he actively submits pictures to local art exhibitions, including the Cotton District Arts Festival, and the Starkville Area Arts Council Gala, among others.

Diehl currently has photographs on display at the Starkville Area Arts Council’s Art in Public Places exhibit “Wonderland,” at the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.

Diehl will continue taking pictures and learning about the art of photography, he vowed.

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