What is it like to sleep next to a glacier at night in remote Greenland?
Terrifying, stunning and exhilarating, during my month journey spent in Southern Greenland–much of the time next to a glacier and the thousand mile ice sheet–documenting the dramatic shifting environment.
The aim of the project is to bring new awareness to irreversible environmental destruction. Beyond documentation, however, these photographs convey a surreal portrait of a changing primordial landscape.
“Inertia,” the new photo project, looks at the land, ice and communities in Southern Greenland including the tiny remote town Narsarsuaq, population 158, which lies in the shadow of glaciers. The photos capture the vast scarred landscapes; shrinking icebergs and ice floes; desolate villages; and four hundred-year-old Norse ruins; all marked with minimal traces of human intervention. Photographed through the hours of changing light at dawn, twilight, or nighttime the vistas are haunted, luminous, magical and at times devastating.
I wanted to show what it feels like to be there; I felt dwarfed by the immensity of the space and sky. I could feel the destruction of this dazzlingly beautiful place. It took my breath away and yet I felt overwhelmed (and at times frightened) by the immutability of the natural world.
Much of the inspiration is based on historic painting, including Hudson River Landscape painters Frederic Edwin Church, and William Bradford, who explored the coast of Labrador and Greenland.
This is a continuation of a long-term project photographing in remote locations at night. I am planning an exhibition of large-scale photographic prints in galleries and museums, and to publish a book of the photos.
The trip was funded by two grants, the American-Scandinavian Foundation and the Lois Roth Endowment.
See related articles:
Capturing the Environment, Glaciers and Norse History at Night
Grant Support From American-Scandinavian Foundation and The Lois Roth Endowment
Sleeping next to a glacier in Greenland at night was terrifying, stunning and exhilarating.
The sounds at night were compelling. They ranged from thundering ice breaks; strange baaing of sheep unseen across the fjord in rugged mountains; the echo of birds’ wings flapping overhead; and a low hum–was that the hidden river of water flowing underneath the ice, or just me, hearing my own blood pumping through my body?
Being a witness to the ice, seeing it stretch north–going for nearly two thousand miles uninterrupted–was mesmerizing, chilling and haunting.
Standing Before History and The Vast Dead Zone
I was standing before history. Thousand-year-old ice was in front of me, at the end of it’s journey, transitioning simply into water and mud.
More powerfully, this was a vast dead zone. Except for an occasional bird fly-over and microscopic bacteria, there was no life here at all, and this felt baffling and scary to contemplate.
Go From New York to Florida and See 55,000 People?
To try and comprehend the vastness of Greenland and its lack of people is not easy. It has a population of only 55,000 scattered throughout towns and settlements, none of them linked by any roads.
Or to put it another way: Think of going from New York to Florida, but instead of encountering one hundred million people, mega cities, and dozens of other major cities along the coast, there would be only handfuls of small towns, the biggest of which would be 16,000 people but most would be of about 300 to one thousand, and just five miles inland stretching to about where about Cleveland would be solid mountains of ice and snow (in other words, nothing across 400 hundred miles).
The Ice Is Melting; Glaciers Are Retreating
But glaciers are retreating; ice is melting.
Changes happening in Greenland’s ice shelf, which, by some scientific accounts and seen first hand by the local guides I encountered, think it’s retreating faster than originally thought, upto several meters per year. This could add up to a mile every century–a stampede in geologic terms.
Summer too brought record high temperatures (it was warmer in Narsarsuaq than New York for a few days in July). For example, the glacier that stayed near, the …., is now a dead one, and was not calving (breaking at the edge)–perhaps this is due or certainly exacerbated by arctic warming.
From Glaciers to Settlements
Beyond documenting the dramatic shifting environment, my approach was to present the haunting beauty of the glaciers and ice, as they are now.
I photographed the scarred landscape there in Southern Greenland: the glaciers from the ancient ice now melting; icebergs and ice floes in the fjords; remote small settlements of a few dozen people; Eleventh and Twelfth Century Norse ruins, now populated only with sheep; and vast, empty landscapes–all at dawn, twilight, or in deep night.
A goal was to bring new awareness to these changes, but also to link history and the environment by photographing near the New World departure point of Leif Eriksson, the first European believed to step on North American soil.
Link to Norse Ruins and First European Exploration of North America
There in tiny Qassiarsuk, a town of about thirty sheep farmers in a fjord in Southern Greenland, was launch of the epic European exploration lead by Norse Leif Eriksson to North America in c. 1000. A bronze statue of him is on the hill overlooking the bay. Standing at Eleventh Century Norse ruins among sheep grazing was strange; the place seems forgotten.
Inertia in the Primordial
But beyond just documentation, however, these photographs try to crystallize a feeling of inertia taking place in primordial Greenland.
As the raw land is exposed through the melting ice–as if the past is being unearthed–there is a link between environment and history. Just as Greenland was the launch of the momentous but now forgotten European exploration of North America, so too is the present day ice melt largely forgotten by the West.
Absence and Impending Human Failure
In both cases, there is a feeling of absence, impending human failure, tragedy, and the crushing force of nature being played out unseen in desolation. I wanted to capture the immensity of the space in ethereal light, revealing both a lyrical beauty and inexorable horror in it’s destruction. I wanted to photograph this feeling of loss, discovery and change.
Thanks to an American-Scandinavian Foundation Travel Grant and a Lois Roth Endowment, I continued a long-term project tracing human intervention in remote landscapes.
Also, I’m grateful for Northern Axcess for using their satphone–it was especially helpful during the time spent at the glacier where I could email the local authorities, make a few calls for safety and check the weather.
See how I used it here.
See related articles:
Cracking Glaciers Replaced With Sirens: Returning from Greenland to New York
Cracking glaciers and baaing sheep have been replaced from noise from Second Avenue in the East Village: welcome back from a month photographing in Greenland.
I Won A Grant to Photograph Melting Glaciers in Greenland. The Only Problem: I’ve Never Camped Before In My Life.
See also, “Photographing the Haunting Beauty of Melting Glaciers in Greenland,” and, “Why I Slept Next to a Glacier: A Fine Art Photography Project in Greenland“
What Do I Need?
Follow on Social Media Using #GreenlandPhoto
Climate Change and Fine Art Photography Project in Greenland
For my photography project, “Inertia,” I’ll be heading to Greenland to capture changing climate as manifested in melting glaciers. Informed by Norse history and funded by the American-Scandinavian Foundation and Lois Roth Endowment, I’ll be spending about one month in remote (redundant?) Southwestern Greenland in mid-August. Since the glaciers are about a three hour walk from Narsarsuaq, pop. 158, I’ll be needing to camp near by.
The only problem: I’ve never camped before in my life.
Am I Crazy?
Is this dangerous artistic folly, or brave adventure spurred by creative drive?
I’ll find out soon enough. But I’ve been wondering–what do I really need? Researching on the internet provides information and most answers but it’s no replacement for real-world experiences. What am I missing?
Besides the logistics of setting up a tent, boiling water for freeze-dried meals, and the actual taking of long (one hour or more) exposure photographs of the empty, lyrical landscapes, what else should I be prepared for in general while camping, or specifically in Greenland?
I Know Something…
I’m hardly foolhardy and research almost everything I can. For example, I’ve reached out to the Danish Consulate (thank you–they were so helpful!); Greenland.com, a great tourist resource and web site; the local expedition and outfitter, Blue Ice; and a few others, to gather as much information as I can on the conditions, weather, local animal population (no polar bears but maybe arctic foxes?), cell reception (none outside Narsarsuaq), mosquitoes and the like.
Here’ a list of what I think I’ll need.
I guess some of the most important questions are:
Will I be safe?
This is a big one, obviously. Things that I imagine would befall me are mostly accidental, I’m thinking, such as breaking bones, and stuck in a remote part of the world without nearby proper medical care seems extra scary. Narsarsurq, as does each Greenlandic settlement, has a nurse, but patients with serious issues need to be airlifted out, possibly some distance. Not sure what to do about this except to check in with the local outfitter and hotel (or see below).
Also, sleeping near (note: not ON) is safe, right?
Can I Get Satellite Internet Coverage?
Since cell phone coverage ends about two miles outside most towns in Greenland, I would be completely alone and detached from the world (which has it’s good and bad points) while I’m by the glaciers. I would like to get a satellite internet connection for both safety and to share photos and social media updates about my photography project. However, they are hideously expensive. Perhaps I can barter, have it donated or get it at low cost?
The Scourge: Bugs?
Summertime brings bugs, usually. What can be done to avoid going insane by these critters? Is there a recommended spray? Nets?
Which is Louder: Second Avenue (East Village) or Glaciers?
Ok, I’m used to sleeping through nearly anything (sirens, bars letting out at 4am, etc., all of which can be heard from my East Village, New York City window), but glaciers “calving” make noise too. Can they crash like thunder?
Can I Drink the Water?
Since the water is really pure, I think I can drink it, right?
What can go wrong?
I guess I’ll find out…
Remember to follow #GreenlandPhoto and @SteveGiovinco on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat).
Changing Climate and History: “Inertia,” Greenland Photography Project Funded by the American-Scandinavian Foundation and Lois Roth Endowment
Photographing the Haunting Beauty of Melting Glaciers, Aiming to Link History and the Environment
Informed by Changing Climate and History
Follow on Social Media Using #GreenlandPhoto
Beyond documenting the dramatic shifting environmental changes, my approach is to present the haunting beauty of the melting glaciers at twilight and night. The goals are to bring new awareness to these changes and to link history and the environment by photographing the quickly receding ice sheets near the New World departure point of Leif Eriksson, the first European believed to step on North American soil. I leave New York for Greenland on August 16, 2016 and will stay for about one month.
The grants allow me to continue my long-term project which traces human intervention in remote landscapes. The majority of the funding comes from the American-Scandinavian Foundation, which offers research in host countries for scholars and artists, and was granted in April, 2016. Additional funding comes from the Lois Roth Endowment.
A New Landscape Revealed in Greenland
My photography project, “Inertia,” captures changes to land, ice and communities in Southern Greenland. In and around Narsarsuaq (pop. 158), I plan on photographing the scarred landscape and newly exposed ground, the result of retracting ice; newly formed lakes on glaciers from the ancient ice now melting; shrinking icebergs and ice floes; images of small settlements such as Qassiarsuk, Narsarsuaq, Igaliku and Narsaq; current and newly built structures; Norse ruins; and vast, empty landscapes with traces of human intervention–photographed at dawn, twilight, or nighttime.
I hope these photographs will bring additional awareness to the environment. Additionally, I aim to trace an important but seemingly lost thread of Western history. What took place in this windswept, remote land was the launch of an epic European exploration lead by Norse Leif Eriksson to North America in c. 1000. Beyond documentation, however, these photographs crystallize a feeling of inertia taking place in the primordial landscape of Greenland.
As the raw land is exposed through the melting ice–as if the past is being unearthed–I feel there is a link between the environment and history. Just as Greenland was the launching place of the now forgotten European exploration of North America, so too is present day Greenland’s ice melt largely forgotten by the West.
In both cases, there is a feeling of absence, impending human failure, tragedy, and the crushing force of nature being played out in a desolate place. I want to capture the immensity of the space in ethereal light, revealing both a lyrical beauty and inexorable horror in it’s destruction. I want to photograph this feeling of loss, discovery and change.
Inspiration and Working Process
I am inspired by Hudson River Landscape painters such as Frederic Edwin Church, and others such as William Bradford, who explored the coast of nearby Labrador, Canada. Additionally, the project is informed by Scandinavia, German and Danish cinema, especially the films of Ingmar Bergman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder), and films my father would bring home to play in his darkened basement.
Greenland Project Background
I started photographing in Newfoundland, Canada, more than fifteen years ago, essentially at the place where Leif Erkisson is supposed to have landed, L’Anse aux Meadows. “Inertia,” represents a continuation of this long-term series, coming full circle from Newfoundland to Greenland.
Connections to Scandinavia Institutions
American-Scandinavian Foundation Travel Grant allows me to work on location, in Qassiarsuk, Qaqortoq, Narsarsuaq, and Igaliku, where I can directly witness the changing landscape. I am researching affiliations and collaborations with the Official Tourism and Business Council of Greenland, the Ministry of Industry and Labour Market, and the Danish Consulate.
Because of previous planning, travel logistics, expense and the large scope of related photographic projects in Newfoundland for over ten years, I am confident I will be able to complete the photographic portion of the project in less than four weeks, the time period funding is requested.
Show of Prints
Returning, I will carefully edit the photographs and produce a small book and a portfolio of about fifteen 40×50” prints to take to new and existing New York galleries for a possible exhibition, as well as to contact Greenland cultural institutions and Danish museums and galleries for show opportunities. I will also share images, comments and blog posts as they happen on social media. As a result, I anticipate several print and online articles written about “Inertia.” Finally, I plan on giving lectures, talks and panel discussions on the environment of Greenland and my photographic process.
About the The American-Scandinavian Foundation
The American-Scandinavian Foundation is an American non-profit foundation dedicated to promoting international educational and cultural exchange between the United States and Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Each year the Foundation awards more than $800,000 in fellowships and grants to individual students, scholars, professionals, and artists to help study or conduct research in the US or Scandinavia.
About the Lois Roth Endowment
Lois Roth Endowment promotes and encourages dialogue across national, linguistic, disciplinary and cultural boundaries. Some of the funding they provide includes The Endowment Awards for Excellence in Cultural Diplomacy; Translation Awards, to foster respect for literary translation; and the Roth Endowment awards, which supports programs to build on collaborations with a wide range of partner organizations, including supplementary project funds to a grantee of the American-Scandinavian Foundation.
Most importantly, I feel it is crucial to complete the project in 2016 before the pristine Greenland landscape metamorphose further.
About Steve Giovinco
Steve Giovinco is a fine art photographer who exhibits widely in North America and internationally. Steve earned an MFA from Yale University, and has been awarded fellowships, grants and numerous artist residencies to places such as Yaddo. Showing in over 100 group and solo gallery and museum exhibitions with artists such as Jeff Wall, and Martin Parr, Steve’s work has been collected by several institutions, such as Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Yale University. Reviews have been published in Art in America, his work has appeared in the New York Times, in several catalogues and in “Summertime,” published by Chronicle Books.