The Twilight Zone


The Arctic.. got to be seen to be believed

… 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.

The moon hovers over Ilulisat, Greenland.

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.

In search of the sun

The viewpoint

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.

Note to self... must remind the kids not to leave their bikes outside unattended

Out of town, dog sleds still remain the most reliable mode of transport in winter

. . .

Working in the darkness of daytime

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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).

An environment that touches everyone who visits

Scrabble has never really taken off in Greenland

.  .  .

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!

16 Responses to “The Twilight Zone”

  1. […] Especially true in the higher latitudes that spend weeks in darkness, save for the light of the moon, waiting for that first new sunrise to break. […]

  2. Gra.- says:

    Gracias Timothy… además de admirar su excelente trabajo, creo es un buen material pedagógico. Ya que lo puedo utilizar para mi trabajo como profesora de Geografía. Me resulta muy difícil escoger una imagen preferida, cada una expresa idiosincrasias, culturas, decisiones políticas y económicas de los lugares visitados… Lástima, no poder conocer todos.

  3. Hi Tim,

    found your page by accident but was definitely not disappointed. Really like this post as I have previously spent 3! years in Greenland working as a cameraman/guide/photographer with various companies (2005-2007) until I met a lovely woman from Tonbridge (small world), and am now living in Sydney working as a travel/studio photographer.

    Once again for your very interesting posts, I especially enjoyed the timelapse tutorials.

    take care


  4. Brian Carey says:

    Just read your comment about movies being the new stills. No doubt photography is going that way. Wedding photographers are beginning to use video and taking still images from the videos. Personally I am looking at how I can make this adjustment. I’d like to say that there are images that can’t be recorded on video, such as encapsulating time as in long exposure work.

    These are revolutionary times indeed!

    Regards from Canada’s Far East!

    • Timothy says:

      There are many things that video can’t do, but I must admit that it is a far better tool for telling certain stories than stills. I’m not convinced on the grabs from video yet though. They are too lo res, and since I always shoot video at 1/50th second, most of the grabs have too much blur in them for me.

  5. Brian Carey says:

    Lovely work Tim!

  6. barry rowland says:

    I’ve travelled to Lapland a couple of times, and people do have a different approach to life… the Sami are connected/tied to their reindeer, and the seasons, for almost all of their daily activities, even though they now have snowmobiles, cell phones and TV 😉

    Inspiring photographs, weird and wonderful destinations

  7. Haha, that was a pretty deranged laughter. 🙂 I guess it’s excusable in the cold, and because you take such awesome photos. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your amazing work Tim, always fascinating and inspirational to come here.

    • Timothy says:

      Hello Mitchell, we’ve never met but I know your work well. It popped up on my radar when I was researching for a trip to Kawar Ijen. Your shot of the guy with the lamp at the crater ring was easily my favourite from everything that I could find online. It’s also the reason I spent quite a few sunrises hanging around that section of the pathway looking for something similar. I ended up getting what I was after at a spot a bit further down the track in the end, but I think I still prefer the light in yours. Thanks for the original inspiration.

      • Small world. 🙂 I did see your image and I think that I actually prefer your one. I love that you got the miner with the basket full of sulfur already, in my case he was still making the journey down. And the guy lighting the smoke is priceless. Do you remember the name of the dude in the front by any chance?

        Anyhow, honoured to be an inspiration of any sort, because you’ve certainly done that for me with a lot of your images. What projects do you have planned for the future?


        • Timothy says:

          Can’t remember the guys’ names. They weren’t part of our film, just passing through in the early morning.

          The future of sorts has already arrived in the form of two long term film projects that I have taken on. Both involve films shot entirely on 5D mark IIs over the next year. One of them will become a multimedia ‘thing’ (I don’t know what to call it), and the other is a straight film. It appears that movies are the new stills, and in many ways I agree. It certainly is proving a much better way to tell a story in a lot of the working situations I find myself in.

  8. Tim Allen says:

    Great stuff. Just thought I’d say Hi because my name’s Tim Allen too 🙂

  9. Andrew Newey says:

    So I’m guessing it is the Arctic episode tonight then?

    I’ll be at Destinations for see Karina & Co so I’ll see you there!

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