As a child 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, I’ve been lucky to visit the Arctic, both in Canada and Europe, yet the Barents Sea has eluded me - until this year. One of the lovely outcomes from the publication of my Generation Geilo: Portrait of a Community was a request to join a 9 week assignment to produce a multi media package for Visit Varanger to promote the Varanger Peninsula’s rugged beauty. Split into 3 parts, the project is capturing the feel & look of summer, autumn and the long winter to best reflect the transitions in light, abundant flora & fauna and, of course, the epic coastline.
My role is to create a portrait series highlighting noteworthy people that are passionate about what Varanger offers. Although born and raised in the region, many of the people have sort further education and young careers away from the north and have then returned to forge new business ventures, from king grab fishing and husky tours to running guest houses and providing bespoke bird watching experiences. Joining Sven-Erik Knoff and Jørgen Hjelmsøy producing video & aerial imagery, I’m also capturing landscapes, details and of the beguiling, yet calm and peaceful vibe of Varanger.
Varanger is located in East Finnmark, 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, up to the mainland via Tana and Varangerbotn, branching out to Vardø and Hammingberg at 30º East to Kongsfjord and Berlevåg sitting comfortably above 70ºN.
Local, cross border relations with Russia are very positive, with communities straddling the border proud of their trading heritage and mutually beneficial migration, resulting in the Norwegian town of Kirkenes boasting a permanent native speaking Russian population of over 10%, with official dual language signs everywhere.
I type this post towards the end of stage 2, with the rapid autumnal shift in the Arctic over within just 2 weeks! The project is generating quite a lot of interest as this distant region of Norway normally plays second fiddle to the Instagram friendly topography of Troms, Nordland and the Lofoten archipelago in the west (see another essay I made called 68º 69º Parallel North).
My aim in making the photographs in Varanger is to convey the sense of peace and calmness emitted across the land and seascapes and running through the small communities dotted across the region. Completing the assignment in March 2019, here are a few teasers from summer and autumn shoots. Click any to view large. Enjoy 😎