… Prior to traveling to Greenland with Human Planet, I had never been to the Arctic before. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. Cold? Yes of course, but I don’t think anything can quite prepare you for the astonishing panoramas that hide quietly around every frozen corner.
A winter north of the Arctic circle is no place for sun worshippers. Daily life is lived amidst a magical pink twilight that leaves you feeling like each day never really starts. For a photographer like myself it’s a dream. I mean, you get to see colours you never knew existed in the natural world and you only have to work a 3 hour day. The only draw back is the cold. Like having to gulp down your morning cup of tea before it freezes in your mug, or watching in horror as your camera shuts down as vital pieces of rubber freeze and snap in half. Both happened to me on this shoot. But hey, who cares? You’re in the Arctic surrounded by huskies and blue icebergs! It’s a small price to pay.
When we went on this trip to Greenland, it was January. We headed to Ilulissat, its most westerly point in search of the first sunrise of the year, an event which ends the mid winter darkness that falls upon this town for over a month each year. Traditionally, townsfolk walk or sledge to a point overlooking the sea from which the golden rays can be seen and felt by all. There they briefly sing songs and generally socialise before dashing back to the warmth of their homes.
During our time in Ilulissat we were guests of local fisherman Niels Gundel who welcomed us in to all aspects of his family’s life.
Being out on Niels’s fishing boat in mid winter was one of the eeriest things I did on Human Planet. I love raw, desolate places… something the arctic possesses in shed loads.
People who live in the higher latitudes have a certain aura about them. They tend to be quiet, pensive people in my experience, often quite closely connected with their environment resulting in an emotional landscape that reflects its changing seasons. The down side of this intimate relationship with mother nature is a tendency for melancholic dips in the dark winter months, something that I have had a life long fascination and affinity with, reflected, as it is in the art, literature and music of Europe’s northerly nations. (Try browsing some paintings by Edvard Munch, reading ‘Hunger’ by Knut Hamsun or listening to music by Icelandic band Sigur Rós for a start).
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On a lighter note, spending some time in an extremely cold winter did give me the opportunity to test out the authenticity of a particular urban myth that I had often heard. As it goes, at a certain low enough temperature, if you throw boiling water into the air it will freeze before it hits the ground.
On this particular day at Kangerlussuaq airport it was minus 35. Myself, director Nick and producer Willow popped outside to test the theory. Here’s what happened…
Please ignore my slightly deranged laughter. It was very cold and I was tired!