Last week I posted Part One of my Greenland assignment wrap up. Today I continue the journey, reflecting on the wonders of an unforgiving environment and the resilience of a culture…
I have seen images of Musk Ox on icy, windswept tundra and thought “that looks tough” and it is, but I quickly learned why so many photographers capture them in these conditions.
The rugged, uneven tundra is buried under metres of snow and ice blown smooth by the winter storms. As I’m sucking in air on a mountainside my guides in typical Greenlander matter-of-fact fashion, and as if they’re stating the obvious, tell me that’s why every other photographer waits until winter and then they just “Get all the way out here on snowmobiles.” “What they don’t hike like us?” I ask incredulously, and they just laugh at me and continue up the sheer slope!
The soft cushion plants are fantastic for falling on especially with your face, but they are shocking to hike on for protracted periods. They’re uneven, unstable, give little purchase when you push off from them and conceal countless holes some deep enough to swallow you up to the waist. It’s like walking on a ‘hole minefield’ and the more tired you become the more mistakes you make.
And that’s what Greenland is synonymous with; it is one of those countries where being tired and unprepared can kill you. The terrain is harsh and the climate unmistakably unforgiving but for all that it is mind bogglingly beautiful, enormous to the eye and the senses. This is not Big Sky country like Australia it’s Big Land country where the scale is hard to fathom. The magnitude of the natural features is such that to capture them you have to use lenses so wide there is the potential to diminish that which you’re trying to translate for the viewer.
The landscape is raw and untamed and EMPTY! The planet’s largest island is home to only 57, 000 people so outside the scattered towns and communities there is no sign of human activity. This is true wilderness and it is easy to be drawn to the primeval nature of it. Even during the hardest moments of hiking, biting cold, and wet weather it is impossible to ignore the sheer beauty of the endless tundra and tortured ice cap.
The people are incredibly giving, welcoming and generous of time and spirit, but they are also the most self-sufficient and hardy race I’ve met. They don’t mess around they just get in there and do it, they work together to achieve a goal or get the job done and above all they value community. They hunt and fish and sail, are practiced in repairing anything that breaks and are incredibly aware of their heritage, culture and what it means to be from Greenland.
There is a quiet determination in everything they do and they don’t waste time and resources. With a short summer and winter always on the doorstep you get the feeling there is no time to waist. And yet as a visual artist I was amazed at the amount of time spent on the Arts, dance and music. It was not just a part of the culture it permeated it. And the joy on the faces of teenagers practicing traditional dances was palpable, real and very infectious. I attempted the intricate footwork and movements but failed completely, my only success was in making an entire hall of people laugh and laugh and laugh…
I was humbled and touched by my time in Greenland and can only offer my sincerest thanks to the wonderful people who assisted me. The landscape and environment are astounding and in many ways at the mercy of the actions of other countries but more on that later.
Next Week.. The Greenland Assignment: Part Three. Divya and the crew face the harsh reality of field work and just how difficult it is to create distinct and beautiful imagery.