Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Arctic - The Final Frontier - Dramatic Photos of a Vanishing World at Tre Oci in Venice

Iceland © Ragnar Axelsson (1995)
(Venice, Italy) The climate on Earth is changing. It is an awesome thought, one that most human beings have difficulty processing, so we choose to ignore it. Three master photographers, however, have gone to the Arctic and stared the phenomenon straight in the face, recording the images to share with the rest of civilization.

The Arctic. The Final Frontier (Artico. Ultima frontiera), curated by Denis Curti, the artistic director of the Tre Oci, presents 120 powerful black and white images captured by Paolo Solari Bozzi (Rome, 1957), Ragnar Axelsson (Kopavogur, Iceland, 1958) and Carsten Egevang (Taastrup, Denmark, 1969). Three documentaries are also on show, Sila and the Gatekeepers of the Arctic by Corina Gamma from Switzerland, Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski from the U.S., and the Last Ice Hunters by Jure Breceljnik & Rozie Bregar from the Czech Republic.

What is the Arctic? It consists of the Arctic Ocean, and parts of Alaska, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. Greenland, the world's largest island, is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, with a small population of about 56,000 (the same as tiny Venice); 88% of Greenland's inhabitants are Inuit. The United States offered Denmark $100 million for Greenland after war, but Denmark refused to sell.

81% of Greenland is covered by an enormous ice sheet, which is rapidly melting. Greenland is rich with mineral and natural resources, including diamond, gold, precious gemstones, hydrocarbon, rare earth metals, lead and zinc. There could be oil and gas fields up there, too. To put things in terms Americans can relate to, it would be as if a handful of Native Americans were sitting on a bunch of precious treasures the world lusts after, armed with sled dogs and harpoons.

East Greenland, Scoresbysund © Carsten Egevang (2012)
Carsten Egevang is here from Denmark with his two very blond, blue-eyed sons, one of whom was born in Greenland. Trained as a biologist, Egevang was awarded a PhD in Arctic Biology at the University of Copenhagen -- one of those climate-change scientists we hear so much about. He lived in Nuuk, Greenland's capital, from 2002 to 2008, and returns at least three times a year. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to a credentialed individual who is actually there on the climate-changing scene.

Egevang said that when he first started taking photos of Greenland, he was drawn to the beauty of its landscapes, the icebergs, the Northern Lights and the arctic fauna. If he captured a human being or a man-made object, he tossed it out. Now his mission is to document how the natives of Greenland still rely on the nature that surrounds them. He captures the interactions between the people and the animals there, depicting them as elements of the breathtaking landscapes.

Egevang said, "When we hear about climate change, we think it is something that will happen in the future. It is happening now. The sea ice is melting and the temperature is 20 degrees higher than normal."

I asked him how to present climate change as something people could relate to, something in which they had the power to intervene. He said that we could compare it to smoking. Within a relatively short period of time, human beings have completely changed their behavior toward smoking, which, at one time, seemed nearly impossible to accomplish. We must change our behavior toward fossil fuels, or risk being overwhelmed by nature.

Peter Egevant with his father's photos - Photo: Cat Bauer
I spoke to Egevang's 14-year-old son, Peter, who was born in Greenland, and lived there until he was four. He had recently returned there with his father after an absence of about 10 years. I asked him how it had changed. Peter said that it was difficult to recall because he was so young when he left, but he remembered that "everything was white when I was little. Now it's green. ...and the snow bears -- I don't remember this word in English -- the snow bears are dying." He pointed to a bear in one of his father's photos. "Polar bear?" I offered. "Yes," he agreed. "The polar bears are dying."

Paolo Solari Bozzi, Kap Hope, Scoresbysund, East Greenland, 2016 © Paolo Solari
Carsten Egevang said he was in a remote village with about 400 inhabitants when, astonishingly, he bumped into the photographer Paolo Solari Bozzi and his wife, Marina, "two Italians with shiny clothes." Paolo Solari Bozzi was on the eastern coast of Greenland between February and April 2016, recording the everyday life of a populace "that has chosen to live in a difficult environment."

I left for Greenland thinking that I was going to meet the Inuit with their bear and sea furs. But I soon realized that it was not going to be like that because today the Inuit wear Western clothing and their kids all own a cell phone. The Inuit are going through a delicate transition phase that is causing them to abandon centuries-old traditions, replacing them with those of today's world. Their grandparents still lived underground. Some say they were better off then than they are now because at least they were sheltered from the harsh weather that their small wooden houses imported from Denmark can't keep out when the wind blows over 200 km an hour.
Nenets, Siberia © Ragnar Axelsson (2016)
The third photographer, Ragnar Axelsson, or RAX, was born in Iceland in 1958 and has been a professional since he was 16-years-old. He has dedicated his career to documenting the fate and people of the North, "hunters, fishermen and farmers of the circumpolar area who live on the fringes of the habitable world." He believes that the traditional culture of the Arctic people is disappearing, and will not be able to resist the disruptive effects of the larger forces of economy and climate change.

It happened in Thule some twenty-five years ago. As I was walking by a small house, I noticed the old man who lived there standing at the front door, looking at the sky and sniffing the air. Every morning for five days, I saw him standing there in the same spot, always sniffing the air and staring at the ice of the fjord that was melting. I couldn't understand what the old man was saying, he just kept muttering the same words over and over, so one morning I asked a friend to come with me and translate his thoughts.
What the old man was saying was: "It shouldn't be like this, something's wrong. The big ice is sick." What he wanted to tell me was that the ice had never been like this before, that it shouldn't be like this. Those potent words spoken by a wise old man moved me. That man had always been a part of nature, and he was worried now because he sensed a change in the air.
Thule, Qaanaq, Greenland © Ragnar Axelsson (1987)
I also watched Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski, the powerful documentary which tracks James Balog, the Fine Art and Nature photographer, and his dramatic use of time-lapse photography to capture immense chunks of ice sheets cracking and crumbling into icy lakes.

When you watch a glacier disappear in front of your eyes, it makes a deep impression. Mankind has been successful at harnessing the power of nature over the centuries, but what is happening is so majestically horrifying, so immense, and so rapid, it is almost as if God is issuing a new, greater challenge: Clean up your act, or get wiped off the face of the earth. The flood is coming, we can be sure, but, hopefully, this time we have the wisdom to contain it.

The Arctic. The Final Frontier - Artico. Ultima Frontiera runs at Tre Oci from January 15 through April 2, 2017 and is a MUST SEE -- even if the building were empty, the 1913 neo-gothic beautifully restored structure is something to see, and they are always doing some cool photography thing. Go to Casa dei Tre Oci, for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog


  1. The climate on Earth is changing. It is an awesome thought, one that most human beings have difficulty processing, so we choose to ignore it. Three master photographers, however, have gone to the Arctic and stared the phenomenon straight in the face, recording the images to share with the rest of civilization.

  2. Interesting blog. Stunning photos. Climate change is happening quickly. More should be written about the change and available to read. Sharing your post.

  3. Thanks, Leah. Climate change really is happening. Instead of arguing about whether mankind is responsible, we must think about what we can do to ease the repercussions, whether it is our fault or not, and act NOW.