My name is
My wife Audrey and I like to travel and have been touring the world for the
past 25 years. Audrey and I take turns picking travel destinations and Audrey wanted to see Polar Bears.
I wanted to be able to photograph the bears at ground level and while researching the possibilities on the
internet came across
Mark Lissick’s web site advertising a “Polar Bears and Wildflowers” tour based out of
Kaktovik, Barter Island, Alaska. The trip was July 19 - 25, 2012.
I did some research on the web to see if I could find any bad reviews or reports of problems with Mark Lissick.
I did not find anything of note and after speaking with Mark to confirm we would be shooting bears at ground level
I booked the trip.
Things went bad at the start and it was all downhill from there. The guide(s) that were supposed to meet and assist us were unreliable
and frequently did not show up at all. One left town around the time we arrived and to my knowledge never returned.
Everyone we met indicated that we were there at the wrong time to see polar bears. It didn’t take long for us to realize
that the chances of seeing a polar bear on Barter Island during July ranged between slim and none.
Mark Lissick failed to procure any reliable transportation. We were staying at the Marsh Creek Inn which was a nice place considering
the remote location. Mr. Lissick was using the hotel van for our transportation needs. We later found that his contract with the hotel
allowed him only 2 hours use of the hotel’s van on both our arrival and departure day. (He later got an earful about this from Marsh Creek
Inn owner Kurt Winkler who arrived one day to find the van was gone.) As we were not heading out to photograph polar bears we took a walk around town.
Kaktovik is a small city (population 258 per Wikipedia) of primarily Inupiat people on the Beufort Sea north of the Arctic Circle. While walking around town
we spoke with several of the locals. Upon inquiring about the purpose of our visit to Kaktovik all were surprised when we said we were
there to see polar bears. Every local we spoke with indicated that July was not the time to see polar bears. A common remark was
“come back next month”. From about mid-August through September the Inupiats go whaling. The are allowed to kill
up to 3 whales per year. After the Inpuiats process the whale removing all the meat and blubber, they add the remains to what they call
the “bone pile” which is on a spit northeast of town. Information on the Barter Island polar bears can be seen on this
U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service Arctic National Wildlife Refuge web page.
Mark Lissick indicated that he had spoke with “the local representatives of the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife division in Kaktovik” who had advised him that the ice
would be gone from the region by early July and we would be able to see the
“arrival of the polar bears back from their long winter hunting for seals on the
polar ice.” I tracked down one of the Fish & Wildlife Service researches who has
published research on the Barter Island polar bears. She indicated that
“July would not be a time when one could reliably expect to see polar bears on shore on
This brings us to what I consider to be the deceptive nature of Mark Lissick’s web page advertising the Polar Bears and
Wildflowers tour. Let’s go through some of the aspects of the page I find deceptive.
The lead image of Mark Lissick’s page advertising the Polar Bear tour shows a polar bear in a nice field of wildflowers. According
to a local filmmaker I met at the Kaktovik Community Center the wildflower and polar bear viewing times are “mutually exclusive”.
There were some wildflowers to be found but not large fields of them as shown in the photo. In addition, the local filmmaker indicated
that he did not believe the photo had been taken on Barter Island.
I later learned from Mark Lissick himself that the photo was not taken there. In fact he had not been to Barter Island during July previous
to this trip. Furthermore, Mark indicated that it was not his intention to imply that the photo was taken on Barter Island or represented
what we might see on the trip. I found this an astonishing admission. The polar bear in wildflowers photo was the primary reason I was
interested in booking the trip. I was hoping to see and photograph a similar scene. Note that Mark Lissick is a “professional
photographer”. That he would use a photo to sell an adventure/workshop that is not representative of the location being advertised seems
very deceptive to me.
If we were going to see polar bears, the most likely location would be at the
bone pile or city dump. No mention is made of the bone pile on Mark Lissick’s web page advertising the trip.
Here is a sample of some of the other statements made on the web page along with my comments:
Four full days plus two half days (weather permitting) photographing polar bears
Without interference from other groups we will be able to explore the land, coast and
islands around the area to achieve the best bear photo opportunities.
We never saw a polar bear. Weather was not the issue. We were simply there at the wrong time of year.
In Mr. Lissick’s defense I can say for a fact that there was no interference from any other groups.
Ground/boat transportation (as required)
Mark Lissick had no legitimate ground transportation available.
The boats were inadequate. Once we had to go out in shifts because Mark only had 1 small boat available.
The boats had no life jackets or even sufficient seating. A wooden bench was brought along on one ride to provide
seating. There was no communications available between the boats and shore or even between the boats themselves. One time
our boat operator commented that the other operator was being unsafe by approaching the drifting ice too closely.
He indicated that should a piece of the ice break off the boat would be swamped. He also stated he had no plans
to approach the ice that closely. (Sounded like a good plan to me!)
Lots of field shoots with professional guidance.
In my opinion there was very little “professional guidance”. There was some minor discussion regarding camera settings
but nothing like what I expected. (We had never traveled with a “professional photographer” before so
perhaps my expectations in this area were off base?) My wife Audrey had a new camera and I was hoping she would become proficient at it with
Mr. Lissick’s assistance. I don’t believe he looked at the camera other than to view a photo. Mr. Lissick seemed
much more interested in Adobe Photoshop than the details of photography itself. Mr Lissick did give a slide show presentation
discussing how he had taken some of the shots - many of which had been processed with Photoshop. One aspect that later turned
out to be quite ironic was Mr. Lissick discussing how you had to “know your animal” in order to anticipate its
behavior and get the photo you want. If only he had taken his own advice you wouldn’t be reading this.
Near the native village of Kaktovik large numbers of these great carnivores have come ashore from the melted polar ice and can
be seen and photographed with such relative ease and safety.
Unlike the more classic images of polar bears taken from the elevated heights of tundra buggies, I prefer to do my
photographing of these magnificent creatures from ground level. The connection between photographer and subject
(not to mention the viewer) is far more direct and personal. This trip will afford you the very same opportunity.
The advertisement seems to indicate that there will be an abundance of bears to photograph. Not during the time frame we were there.
Note that the page has no disclaimer indicating the possibility that you would not see polar bears other than for adverse weather.
The second event is the emergence of the tundra wildflowers. The flowers make a wonderful backdrop and stage setting to
photograph the bears and other indigenous wildlife.
Per the local filmmaker we met, this was actually near the end of the wildflower season.
Also, the wonderful backdrop statement supported my assumption
that the polar bears will be seen with the wildflowers.
The other great event is the arrival of a wide species of birds that nest and
raise their young in the area. The lagoons South, West and East of Barter Island
provide a haven for many birds, with Snow Goose, Canada Goose, Brent Goose,
Yellow-Legged Goose and Speckled Belly Goose often encountered. Ivory gulls may
be seen inland. On the sea can be found loons, teal, guillemots, king eider and
common eiders as well as the beautiful long-tailed duck. We will have a unique
opportunity to photograph this amazing spectacle of life being renewed. In
addition to the bears and abundant bird life, the area plays host to a variety
of other species including caribou, fox (both red and arctic), wolves, and
We never saw goose one. We did spend some time photographing birds, and looking for caribou.
Mr. Lissick could not accurately identify the birds,
and had no field guides available. Audrey and I did see a long-tailed duck but this when when we took a walk
on our own to the South shore. As for the abundant wildlife, there were a handful of caribou on the island.
We saw snowy owl and I was lucky enough to stir up and photograph an arctic fox.
The caribou were migrating nearby on the mainland. This would have been nice to see and since there were no
polar bears we certainly had the time. Mr. Lissick did make some inquiries as to whether the caribou could be seen
on shore from the boats but to my knowledge, no attempt was made to arrange transportation to go to the mainland
and see the caribou.
After our Polar Bear fiasco, we continued on with Mr. Lissick to Lake Clark National Park to see grizzly bears. This portion
of the trip went fairly well for us but I suspect this is only because Mr. Lissick essentially just resold us a trip to the
Silver Salmon Creek Lodge.
The Silver Salmon Creek Lodge was great. Our guide Dave was excellent and the food was wonderful. If you are interested in going, I
would recommend just booking directly with the lodge. I can virtually guarantee that you will see bears here!
Mr. Lissick’s presence here was superfluous at best (and frankly
irritating after our experience in Kaktovik). We did get some advice from Mr. Lissick befitting his status as a professional
photographer such as warning us not to point our camera lenses into the wind during travel and my favorite ”don’t
shoot the bear until he puts his head up” when the bears were grazing.
It should be noted that not everything was satisfactory in Lake Clark. Mr. Lissick overbooked the trip. His web page
indicated the trip was limited to 4 people. When we arrived at the lodge we had 7 clients and Mr. Lissick. After having presumably
booked a double, four of the women ended up in one cabin. Audrey and I had to share a cabin with Mr. Lissick and another client.
This was not what we were expecting. The first couple days the lodge had to reconfigure a communal sitting area as a dining area
to accomodate us as we could not all fit in their dining room.
We later found that the check Mark Lissick used to pay for our stay at the lodge in Lake Clark bounced. (The check was for over $20,000.)
The owner is currently pursuing legal action against Mark.
Allow me to point you to a few items of interest related to Mark Lissick and Wildlight Nature Photography on the web...
Here is a
review of Mark Lissicks 2011 Polar Bear and Wildflowers tour. I wish I had seen this prior to booking my tour.
Mr. Lissick presents other photographers images as his own. Here is a discussion regarding Mr. Lissick's infringement
of a photo taken by photographer Bill Lockhart.
Publicly available Minnesota Court Records indicate Mark Lissick has been sued at least 9 times since 1995. The most recent judgement
against Mark was entered on May 22, 2012 in the amount of $58,120.77. You can search for the cases and judgements online via the
Minnesota Trial Court
Public Access web site. You’ll find information on Mr. Lissick searching both the Civil Case Records and Judgement Search options.
If you examine the Minnesota records you’ll note that typically Mark just ignores the judgements until they expire. You
can see a screen shot of the most recent judgement against him here.
I found a Minneapolis MN Star Tribune newspaper abstract which indicates Mark Lissick was indicted for fraud in 1995.
Note that one of the civil suits seen on the Minnesota Court site lists both Mark Lissick and the Interstar Limited company mentioned in the
abstract as defendants in a civil suit filed June 9, 1995.
The trail never seems to end! I recently (Nov 2012) received an unsolicited email from a former employer of Mr. Lissick
describing yet another incidence of malfeasance by Mark:
Mark Lissick was employed by me aprox 15 years ago. I fired Mark after I
discovered that he was embezzling money from me. I doubt if I will ever know
exactly how much money he stole from me but it was thousands of dollars. I
attempted to get the Minneapolis Police to prosecute but was unsuccessful in
that endeavor--police departments are hesitant to get involved in these kinds of
cases, and after I fired Mark I had my hands full to rebuild my company and
recover my losses, so I deemed it in my best interest to just move on. I can
tell you that I researched the possibility of trying to recover my money through
a civil lawsuit but came to the conclusion after looking into Mark’s background
that even if I won the case (after spending thousands on legal fees) that my
chances of recovering any money from Mark were slim to none. Mark has a long
history of ripping people off. It has always bugged me that he was able to walk
scot free and not pay any consequences regarding his crimes against me and in
addition that he was able to continue his scoundrel ways--taking money from
I hope your actions are able to put a stop to his thievery for a long time. I
don’t know if you will ever recover your losses, for that you have my
condolences, I do wish you the best regarding your attempts to reveal Mark
Lissick for what he is.
Name witheld by request.
That’s all folks. If you found this site while researching Mark Lissick’s Nature Photography Workshops and Adventures
I hope the information provided here helped with your decision. -