Two Photographers Traveled to the Arctic to Capture Powerful Images of the Rapidly Militarizing Region. See Their Work Here
Their images capture some of the lesser-known consequences of climate change.
In the summer of 2018, documentary photographers Kadir van Lohuizen and Yuri Kozyrev travelled to the Arctic territory and battled through harsh conditions to document the changing terrain. What they found—a climate in collapse, evacuated indigenous communities, and a swath of land that is quickly being militarized—is a stark warning to the world about the perils of climate change.
“People don’t realize how quickly it’s going,” van Lohuizen tells artnet News. “We all know about climate change, that ice caps are melting, that glaciers are retreating, but it goes three times faster in the Arctic than anywhere else in the world.”
Their project, for which the photographers won the 9th Carmignac Photojournalism Award, a €100,000 ($113,000) grant to execute their work, is now on view at the Saatchi Gallery in London in an exhibition titled “Arctic: New Frontier.”
The fact that the photographers shot in the summer puts a special emphasis on their project. “If predictions are right, there won’t be an Arctic at all during the summer in 11 years time,” van Lohuizen says. The territory is rich in resources, and as the ice melts, the oil and gas industry is growing. One of Kozyrev’s images from last August, an aerial shot of an oil tanker, records the first time there was no need for icebreakers.
The project documents climate change’s effects on both the landscape and its inhabitants. Last summer, for the first time in history, the only remaining Nomadic people of the region, the Nenets, were unable to complete their seasonal movement due to the melting of the permafrost. Elsewhere, an indigenous village in northern Alaska, Kivalina, is predicted to disappear underwater by 2025. Some communities are already being evacuated.
“The sad thing is that they are some of the oldest communities in the US—native and indigenous communities—and they are losing their livelihoods and communities as it becomes more difficult to hunt,” van Lohuizen says.
One of the images captured by the Dutch photographer shows an Inuit hunter standing on a block of ice watching for whales, which are more difficult to hunt after the disappearance of sea ice. Van Lohuizen nicknamed the wistful image “Waiting for the Whale.”
The photos also capture a lesser-known consequence of climate change: as the possibility of development opens up, the region is rapidly being militarized, and the risk of conflict is escalating.
“Everyone is running for the jackpot,” van Lohuizen says. The main players are Russia, Canadia, and the Netherlands, a nation that has not been present in the region since the Cold War. The US and China are also encroaching on the territory.
“I don’t know yet how I feel,” van Lohuizen says when asked what it was like to exhibit a documentary project in an art gallery. “The Saatchi is beautiful, you couldn’t wish for a better setting. And the Arctic is obviously beautiful too. Though it’s depressing to know how this beauty is disappearing. At the same time, we did not consider this necessarily to be art.”
The art gallery does, however, offer a new audience to the photographers, which is ideal for spreading their message. The pair previously exhibited their work at a science museum in Paris.
“The main goal we have is for people to see something they haven’t seen before, that they didn’t know before, didn’t think about before,” van Lohuizen says. “We are all on the same planet and most people are aware that we have to take better care of her. And the melting of the Arctic will affect us all. Not just the remote Inuit communities in Alaska or Canada.”
The pair plan to continue on documenting the region and its “tricky, dangerous, and volatile” path to the future.
“Arctic: New Frontier” is on view through May 5 at the Saatchi Gallery in London. See more images from the exhibition below.
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