As a younger self looking through copies of the National Geographic, I was always drawn to stories about the Arctic with its remoteness, challenging weather and rapid seasonal change and sunlight. One of the areas that looked particularly distant from my teenage years in Stevenage was the Barents Sea, with its currents allowing prosperous trading routes between Tsarist Russia and western sovereignties and then providing a perfect propaganda tool and strategic military playground during the Cold War. As a photographer and adult I’ve been lucky to visit the Arctic, both in Canada and Europe, yet the terrain along the Barents Sea's shoreline had eluded me, that is until I received a commission to join a 9 week assignment to produce a multi media package for Visit Varanger to promote the area's rugged yet tranquil beauty.
Varanger is a peninsula in the far eastern part of Troms og Finnmark in northern Norway, an expansive area of wild terrain running along the Russian border from Grense Jakobselv in the north east down to Pasvikdalen on the tri-border of Norway, Finland & Russia, then up to the mainland via Tana and Varangerbotn, before branching out to Vardø and Hammingberg at 30º East and along to Kongsfjord and Berlevåg, both sitting comfortably above 70ºN. Welcome to 'Arktisk Grenseland'.
The commission was split into 3 trips to ensure the 'feel' of summer, autumn and the area's long winter was captured to best reflect the transitions in light, abundant flora & fauna and, of course, the epic coastline. The narrative of the brief was to focus on the realities of life in the area, with real people rooted in their work and domestic settings (a regular 'lifestyle shoot' this was not).
My contribution was two fold, firstly to create an environmental portrait series highlighting noteworthy residents that are passionate about what Varanger's resources offer an inquisitive visitor - as many are born and raised in the region but then seek further education and build young careers away from the north, then returning to forge new business ventures and start new families. From king grab fishing, husky tours and military deployment to running guest houses, providing bespoke bird watching experiences and sea kayaking tours, their collective life experiences ensure that the area continues to flourish, even at the northern most tip of Europe. The second part was to photograph the 'feeling' and quietness of the land and sea scapes, the largely sequestered settlements and some of the details that paint the beguiling picture of Varanger. Series shot on Phase One XF system, Profoto lighting and modifiers.