At Glacier’s End: Protecting Glacial Rivers in Iceland
“Page after page of curving colorful rivers delight the eye in At Glacier’s End, a recently published book about Iceland’s glacial river systems. The images that lie behind its cover were created by Chris Burkard, a photographer and explorer, and the more than 8,000 words that tell their story were penned by Matt McDonald, a storyteller and traveller.”
“Our main goal with the book was to advocate for Iceland’s national parks and to try to create a voice for them from a visual perspective,” Burkard said in an interview with GlacierHub. “In Iceland, it’s really surprising, many politicians who are the decision-makers haven’t had a chance to actually see [these places] because they are far away and really hard to access.”
Seabirds Find New Ways to Forage in a Changing Arctic
“On Arctic landmasses, valley glaciers––formally known as tidewater glaciers––run all the way to the ocean, where cloudy plumes from their discharge create the perfect foraging habitat for seabirds. Researchers found some birds are reliant upon the turbid, subglacial freshwater discharge, which breaks apart icebergs and forms a column of freshwater foraging ground at the glacier’s edge, while others prefer to forage near the broken sea ice where water is less turbid…In 2019, Bungo Nishizawa and associates published a study in the ICES Journal of Marine Science that investigated the effects of subglacial meltwater on two assemblages of seabirds in northwestern Greenland.”
Read the full story by GlacierHub writer Audrey Ramming here.
A First-ever Look at Ice Stream Formation
In this week’s Video of the Week, the world gets its first-ever look at ice stream formation. The video, which was published on the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) YouTube channel on December 17, tracks the rapid movement of the Vavilov Ice Cap, in the high Russian Arctic, from summer 2015 to summer 2018. In the video the glacier’s speed is color-coded by meters per day of movement in what scientists believe is the first documented transition of a glacial surge to a longer-lasting flow known as an ice stream.
Page after page of curving colorful rivers delight the eye in At Glacier’s End, a recently published book about Iceland’s glacial river systems. The images that lie behind its cover were created by Chris Burkard, a photographer and explorer, and the more than 8,000 words that tell their story were penned by Matt McDonald, a storyteller and traveller.
“Our main goal with the book was to advocate for Iceland’s national parks and to try to create a voice for them from a visual perspective,” Burkard said in an interview with GlacierHub. “In Iceland, it’s really surprising, many politicians who are the decision-makers haven’t had a chance to actually see [these places] because they are far away and really hard to access.”
In between full page spreads of Burkard’s aerial photography––rich with saturated shades of all the blues and greens imaginable in the waters of glacial rivers––McDonald’s prose captures two main lines of thought feeding into the wider discourse on how to manage Iceland’s rivers; should the rivers be dammed and used to power highly energy consumptive industries, or should they be protected as part of a new national park?
“To reach a broader audience, I wrote the book I’d want to read––a narrative that (I hope) gracefully weaves together tales of travel, history, culture, and these endangered glacial rivers,” McDonald told GlacierHub. As a result, At Glacier’s End is a well-rounded argument for why now is the time to create a national park in the Highland.
The Highland (hálendið in Icleandic) is the sparsely populated, high elevation plateau covering Iceland’s interior. In total, it covers about 40 percent of the country. It is mostly uninhabitable volcanic desert dotted with large glaciers and the rivers they feed. Iceland also has a relatively flat, low elevation ring of land on its coasts which acts as the country’s major transportation route.
Within the Highland reside brilliantly pigmented glacial rivers. The rivers get their color from the glacial flour suspended in their waters. Because of active volcanoes and a history of volcanism, Iceland has diverse rocks of varying colors that glaciers grind up as they move. Once the rock has been ground into flour, it can be carried by meltwater into rivers, giving the rivers their unique coloring.
“I think the most challenging part of shooting these photos was being in the air, sticking my hand out of a plane, trying to give perspective by capturing every part of the entire river system from the glacier all the way to the ocean. Our prerogative was to give people the full perspective,” Burkard said. Photography, and art more broadly, can play an important role in broadening viewers’ perspectives on an issue.
Inside the Book
The book opens with a prologue by Burkard. In it, he says he is hesitant to call himself an environmentalist––a surprising way to begin what is essentially a conservation story. “I grew up in a very conservative home and the concept of environmentalism was, in my head, I always pictured some 80-year old dude in a floppy khaki hat. I didn’t realize that anybody could protect and advocate for places they love simply by sharing them––I realized that my work can actually advocate for places I care about,” he explained.
The text and images flow together over the course of the book. “I ordered the text of the book in chronological order from the beginning (Iceland’s land formation) to today (the issues affecting these glacial rivers right now)” McDonald told GlacierHub. He added that “The text mirrors the flow of the images, from glacier to river mouth, beginning to end. Each chapter features an introduction in the form of a personal travel vignette from my time in Iceland, ordered from landing in the country to leaving the country. Then each chapter’s body text follows the history, science, and culture through time.”
In the third chapter, the conservation message at the book’s heart begins to peek through. McDonald explains how due to hydropower Iceland could offer low electricity rates that other energy producers in Europe couldn’t compete with, attracting the high energy use aluminum industry. To generate hydropower it is necessary to dam the rivers.
One dam, Kárahnjúkar, was completed in 2008, and affected five percent of the Highland. It was constructed for an American company to smelt aluminum.
After the 2008 financial crisis, which hit Iceland hard, it looked likely that more rivers would become power sources for industry to create much needed jobs. But, the 2010 volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull launched Iceland onto the tourism map, shifting its focus away from aluminum. Tourism boosted Iceland’s economy and by 2016 accounted for 10 percent of its GDP, creating a significant incentive to protect the wilderness that draws visitors to the country.
The fourth and final chapter highlights the various benefits that would result from the creation of a Highland national park. Locally, glacial rivers help to maintain Iceland’s coastline by delivering glacial sediment to its edges. Building dams would disrupt this process.
Globally, glacial sediments are important as well. The sediments deposited into the ocean actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through a process of calcium in the rock binding with CO2. The sediment is also a food source for sea algae that many fish species eat, making it important to the fishing industry.
Creating a New National Park
McDonald examines the hard choices that need to be made to ensure that rural communities have the jobs they need. He considers the consumption that most people partake in using products like cans and cars that contain aluminum. And he weighs the importance of the landscape and broader environment humans rely on. He then calls for readers to show their support for the creation of a Highland national park and includes a link to a petition readers can sign to show their support. He and Burkard believe that such a park would create jobs in rural communities, further increase tourism, and benefit the planet.
At the time of the book’s publication, the plan had the approval of 65 percent of Icelanders. A vote is meant to be held in late 2020. McDonald suggests that the park may need to make exceptions for activities that are not typically accepted on protected lands––but that compromising to ensure that farmers, hunters, herders, off road vehicle users, and hikers can all continue to use the land rather than converting it into a series of dams for industrial hydropower would be the better option.
“There will certainly be challenges to overcome, like powerful energy lobbies and polarizing politics, but we are optimistic the park will happen by the end of the year,” McDonald said.
“I think one of the most important things to understand about Iceland is that real change can happen right now, and they value all of our voices,” McDonald stated. “So please use your voice by whatever means necessary to support this national park in Iceland. We have an opportunity––as a worldwide community––to say that even though these are Iceland’s glaciers and rivers, we support their preservation as one of the planet’s greatest works of art.”
Fiona Bunn is a professional alpine photographer whose work has been displayed in London, Milan, and Zermatt. An avid hiker and climber, Bunn spoke with GlacierHub writer Elza Bouhassira about the inspiration for her most recent exhibition in Guildford, England and her ideas about the role of a photographer in a world increasingly shaped by climate change.
GlacierHub: Can you talk a bit about your exhibition? How does it build on your past work?
Bunn: Going back in time, what motivated me originally was that I’ve always spent a lot of time in the Alps, even as a child I always visited them. Around seven years ago I had quite a shocking experience when I was in the Alps; I took some photographs and could see a profound difference in the glaciers. I’m not sure why I suddenly saw that. Perhaps it was because I had been visiting at different times of the year.
After my shock seven years ago, I felt quite motivated to start developing a conversation. Initially a lot of my work was in black and white. It was quite stark. But as I engaged more with people, I came to realize that photography is as much a journey for me as it is for the people who are looking at it.
The first exhibitions I did were quite stark, they were in more artistic exhibition spaces. I was in the Milan Expo, and then I did a couple in London. An exhibition I did in the summer was in a very commercial environment. It was in Bond Street in London. The exhibition I’m doing now is in a more spiritual environment. It’s actually in a church. It’s part of a heritage weekend that they’re doing, and the weekend is also part of the liturgical season of creation, which is all about the web of life, about the interconnectedness of nature, and the impacts of climate change. For me it’s a big exhibition, to take over a city center church and to have this opportunity, really, it’s great.
GlacierHub: Can you talk about the upcoming exhibit?
Bunn: It’s a church in Guilford. It’s a 10th-century church. It’s a bit of an artist’s dream because it’s in a state of disrepair at the moment since they’re doing a lot of building work on it. The structure itself is undergoing a lot of change so the pictures of mountains are almost replacing the windows of the church—the windows are covered up due to the construction. People are seeing nature come into their environment where stained glass would usually be, which is really nice. There are 15 images, each about 1.5 meters by half a meter. It’s a beautiful space. And educationally it’s great too because they’ve got lots of children helping, the local Brownies Guides are doing a pop-up cafe. So there’s going to be a lot of young people there and it’s just a great opportunity to engage with a different audience.
GlacierHub: How do you decide where to shoot?
Bunn: I like to go back to the same set of places because I’m trying to record change. I try to build relationships with people because I want to focus more on education going forward. Since I’m also a climber, I tend to choose places that are very high up.
GlacierHub: Do you use any filters or post-processing as part of your creative process?
Bunn: I don’t use any filters and, in post production, just a little bit of cropping. I’ve got quite a basic camera to be quite frank. I tend not to use polarizing filters. I’m a bit of a nightmare for other photographers because if I can climb it, and I can just sit here and I can photograph it, then I’m happy and I’ll do that.
GlacierHub: Why do you shoot landscapes?
Bunn: The landscape of the Alps is so beautiful. People ask why I go back to the same places; it’s because every time I go it’s different, the sky’s different, the sunsets, the experiences, the people I meet. I always think of people like John Muir who just basically hung out in Yellowstone National Park most of his life. There is something in that because it’s about getting to know people, and the community and building links that will be part of my artistic process of recording what I’m seeing and experiences I’m having. Personally, I try and capture exactly what I see with a little bit of cropping. What you see is what you get with me.
GlacierHub: Most of your images focus on landscapes and mountains. Is it a deliberate choice to omit animals and humans?
Bunn: I feel that landscapes need a voice at the moment. I do photograph quite a bit of wildlife, but I don’t always put those into my exhibitions. I think there’s probably quite a lot of work that can be done around tracking the effects of what’s happening on wildlife.
GlacierHub: What do you think the role of a photographer is in a world confronted by climate change?
Bunn: I think photography opens a door to conversation. It’s a tool for communicating experience. I think artists have a profound responsibility.
I think different artists have different signatures in their work. Some people call them motifs. One thing that I think all artists who have any interest in climate change can say is that the subject profoundly touches you to the extent that you make it the central pivot for your work. What I’ve seen has impacted me to the extent that it has become part of the signature in my work. It’s become very important to me.
I feel the artistic community has a real role to play in that we have different voices, and together we can reach people. I sometimes worry the message isn’t clear, that there is still a lot of confusion about the message. I think we’re still fumbling our way through this, trying to figure out what are we trying to say.
GlacierHub: Do you think beautiful pictures make people complacent rather than provoking them into action?
A: I think we need a combination of both, which is why I think that when different artists work together it’s quite powerful. I’ve always thought that a collective approach is really important. I would say that the more artists who have different approaches, but who are essentially working toward the same goal, the better.
Also, if you show a beautiful picture, you can put powerful words along with it. It’s shocking and it makes me extraordinarily angry to see what we’re doing to the environment. But I know I am not going to reach people with only very stark images. I need to show people the beauty of mountains and that they will not exist the way they do now in the future. Sometimes I wonder whether my work will end up being purely a historical document for people to reflect on in thirty years once the ice is no longer here. If that’s what I end up doing, then I’m prepared to do that. I want to start documenting the people who live there too, because I think that’s important too. John Muir and Ansel Adams, artists I love and respect, they grabbed people’s attention because they cared enough about a place to just sit there and take photo after photo of it. I think things have changed now and I might just be creating a historical document. We can tell people they’re destroying the environment, but they know it.
Environmentalism needs lots of artists. It needs a lot of us because one thing I have understood is that at first I saw my work as just me loving mountains and wanting to share them with people and warn them that these environments are not going to be like this much longer. I think what I’ve understood is that people love to go and look at art, to listen to poetry, to read stories. And I think this is the time for people who are artists to play on that interest. I think artists have a really important role to play in the process of addressing climate change, whatever their style within it.
The photography festival Alt. +1000 will return for its fifth run, this year with a theme of global warming and “the trace of man on the mountain.” The festival, which opens September 1st, will feature nearly eighty photographers from Switzerland and abroad. It will take place at three locations situated at an altitude of one thousand meters across the city of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
Each location will host an exhibition inspired by the mountains and people’s interactions with them. In a sixteenth century farm house, the exhibit, “The Trace of Man” will visualize the mark people have made on the mountains. A guided tour through the Musée de Beaux-Arts Le Locle art museum will explore “the relationship between the physical landscape and the mental landscape.” And Project Pressure, a charity that funds artists to document climate change, will unveil its photographic project, “Warning Signs.”
Founded in 2008 by Danish photographer Klaus Thymann, Project Pressure sends photographers and visual artists, along with scientists, on carbon-offset journeys around the world to capture what global warming and the melting of glaciers look like. “Warning Signs,” which will be installed on the shores of Lake Taillères, will feature artwork and informative posters that visualize the climate crisis. The collective, whose aim is to “use art as a positive touch-point to inspire action and behavioural change,” is taking “Warning Signs” on an international tour.
This isn’t the first art exhibit in Switzerland to highlight the cryosphere. The country is also home to the glacier museum Glacier Garden, founded in 1873.
Check out these previews of the festival’s exhibits:
Photographer James Whitlow Delano has created a series of powerful images of Bolivia’s ongoing water crisis. His photos focus on the Altiplano, the high plateau where the Andes Mountains are at their widest and which crosses the borders of Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, is the largest city on the plateau. Families from rural areas are moving into La Paz and its largest satellite city, El Alto, because the agricultural way of life they rely on is no longer viable due to a lack of water. These families move into slums in the cities, like the one captured below, hoping to find better paying jobs.
Rural areas are struggling because the glaciers they rely upon are melting, which means less water for farming or snow for skiing. The lodge shown below was formerly a part of the highest ski resort in the world, but now sits empty because the Chacaltaya Glacier, which filled the adjacent valley, melted entirely in 2009 due to warmer and more frequent El Nino events.
Mountains in the Andes, like Condoriri, currently show what the region would look like without the effects of climate change. Glaciologist Edison Ramirez conducted a study that predicted, however, that the glaciers on the mountain may completely melt over the course of the next thirty years.
The melting of the glaciers has already had negative effects; along the shores of the dried up Lake Poopo sit quinoa plants in desiccated soil. Migration from rural areas to Bolivia’s cities is driven by drought. The difficulties created by drought are contributing to residents’ moves into bigger cities.
Other lakes and ponds in the Altiplano are at risk of suffering the same fate; below is a pond in the process of drying up. The melting of the glaciers and the lakes they feed is significant because the Altiplano does not get enough rain to support those who live there—It relies on glacial melt to support the human population.
Since the series on Bolivia was posted in late June, @everydayclimatechange has highlighted water shortages in Chennai, India; wildfires in Yosemite; and youth climate strikes inspired by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish youth climate activist.
Project Pressure, a charity founded in 2008, seeks to provoke action to confront climate change by organizing exhibitions that combine photography and science, specifically focused on the world’s glaciers.
The group’s latest installation of artwork is titled “Meltdown. A Visualization of Climate Change by Project Pressure” and is on display until September 1st at the Natural History Museum, Vienna. The exhibit features projects by renowned artists, such as architecture and landscape photographer Simon Norfolk, who have traveled around the world to photograph some of the planet’s most vulnerable environments and landscapes. The artists worked with scientists from a wide array of backgrounds to ensure accuracy.
Glaciers retreat and glacier mass loss is a readily apparent symptom of the impacts of climate change. Mass loss from glaciers, unlike other weather and climate events, can be directly attributed to warming. All around the world, glaciers are visibly shrinking, prompting local residents, elected officials, academics, prominent cultural figures, and climate activists to raise the alarm about the rapidly deteriorating state of the world’s glaciers.
The exhibition is divided into three sections, the first of which is titled “The Importance of Glaciers,” which includes work from artist Peter Funch, a Danish photographer who captures landscapes, people, and portraits . Funch uses postcards of images of glaciers in America to portray recession over the years, giving the effect of old photographs by using RGB tricolor separation, a technique invented in the 19th century.
Various urgent subjects are explored in the second section of the exhibition, “Current Issues.”This includes the impacts of climate change and glacier loss on populations, such as the over one billion people dependent on the Himalayas for water.
The final section of the exhibit, “Meltdown Consequences,” surprises audience with peculiar examples of the impacts of climate change. This section includes work by artists Norfolk + Thymann, picturing part of the Rhone glacier in Switzerland covered by geo-thermal cloth to prevent further melting. This striking image reflects the desperate attempt by local people in trying to conserve the critical water resources that glaciers provide and that they heavily depend on.
Project Pressure artist Toby Smith is an environmental photographer whose project “Heavens and Earth on Aragat” is currently being exhibited as part of Meltdown. Smith told GlacierHub about the project and shared his experience during his time on Mount Aragats, the highest point in Armenia. The glacier feeds into a network of tributaries, providing water to surrounding provinces.
Smith said that initial research conducted for the project showed Mount Aragat was under major threat from climate change, experiencing dwindling ice cover and rapid decrease in glacial surface area over time. “The glacial cover has been disappearing on account of the insufficient snowfall, changes in rainfall patterns, and critically an increase in annual mean air temperatures,” he said.
One of Smith’s main goals was to understand the different human relations with glacier flow. He was able to connect with people from remote villages across provinces and learn how changes on the mountain affected their lives. Unfortunately this change in hydrology has negatively impacted the livelihoods and economies of these local communities. Although the primary focus is to document landscapes, Smith said he deliberately focused on also exhibiting a strong human and cultural presence on the mountain.
Fiona Bunn, a British and Swiss alpine photographer, commented on the power of photography and visual artwork to raise awareness on important issues regarding climate change.
“For the past 5 years I have felt the increasing significance of communicating through visual arts the changes I have seen, and the positive impact it can have on awareness of climate change” she said. Bunn added that the role of an artist in this field involves documenting changes, celebrating the beauty of the natural environment, and creating community by sharing with the world nature through art.
“The success of “Meltdown” is in finding a public platform for sharing this important issue”.
The Meltdown exhibition is on display at the Natural History Museum, Vienna until September 1, 2019. Like the glaciers, see it before it’s too late.
This past year has been an exciting time for me as an alpine photographer. I managed to travel to southern Switzerland three times, combining trips with family and professional events in order to minimize my ecological footprint. I also brought along my new camera, a Nikon DS5600 with a 18-140mm Nikkor zoom lens. It continues to be a privilege to visit such an awesome place with mountains to climb, beautiful scenery to photograph, and great hospitality with the local mountain communities.
Even though I have visited many other places, it is these alpine communities that draw me back again and again. I love to see the mountains during different seasons, and that is partly why I’ve branched out from my favored black-and-white photography to shoot more color images. The results can be seen in my 2019 exhibitions.
I continue to investigate new scramble routes, meet amazing fellow “explorers,” and make new friends during my expeditions. I listen to stories from locals about the impact of climate change. This summer I heard more about the Zinal Glacier in the Pennine Alps, Valais. It is a 7-kilometer-long glacier, which, according to those who live close by, is shrinking at a rate of 30 meters per year.
Through my photography, I hope to encourage open and respectful debate about climate change. As the issue attracts more media attention, I was delighted and surprised to be invited to give three exhibitions in the first part of 2019. The exhibition spaces are big, enabling me to print large-format versions of my images. It has always been my hope and dream to give visitors a real immersive experience, and I can already see areas for developing more fully this sensory aspect. So this summer I will be traveling back to the Alps to research and develop ideas for the next stage in my photographic exploration of the Alps.
Fi Bunn’s upcoming exhibitions take place May 11-18 at Victorinox, Bond Street, London and in mid-August through September at St. Margaret’s Heritage Centre, Quarry Street, Guildford, Surrey.
In an exhibition titled “Belonging, Transformation, and Ethnographic Predicaments in Nepal’s Himalaya,” a team of artists shared stories of their Himalayan experience through a collection of photographs. The exhibition was held at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver from February 1 to April 30. A closing reception, followed by a discussion of changing ethnographic practices, was hosted by the university April 23.
The exhibition highlighted many changes, which the artists—Yungdrung Tsewang, Tsering Gurung, Yeshi Gurung, Kory Thibeault, and Emily Amburgey—noticed while in Lower Mustang.
“The signs of transformation are hard to miss,” the artists wrote in their collective statement. The bulldozers and road construction teams, the newly constructed hotels and guesthouses, advertisements of hot showers and free Internet, the fallow agricultural lands, and the empty houses—these are the easily visible signs of transformations.
Less obvious, the artists pointed out, are “the class divisions that allow certain people to migrate while others stay behind, the decreasing numbers of practicing Buddhist monks, and the lack of spoken Tibetan among the younger generations.”
Embedded in the photographic depiction of transformations in this exhibition were questions of belonging and ethnographic predicaments. It is here that Emily Amburgey, whose photographs were not included in the exhibition, quietly shines. Amburgey said that she did not want the exhibit to just focus on the finished research products, “but to problematize the often complex and ongoing relationships between ethnographers and those they work with that make projects like these possible.”
Amburgey is a doctoral student of anthropology at UBC and her research focuses on labor migration and environmental change in Nepal’s Himalaya. The exhibition was a culmination of her different collaborative projects with friends from Nepal and the United States. Over the course of four months, Amburgey and Yungdrung Tsewang had come to the realization that the impacts of labor migration and climate change were radically transforming the human and nonhuman landscape in Mustang.
Tsewang was Amburgey’s research associate while she conducted fieldwork for her master’s program. During that time, together they organized a PhotoVoice project with the intention to work closely with the fellow artists Yeshi Gurung and Tshering Gurung, two women who are actively engaged in their community. PhotoVoice is a digital storytelling platform that seeks to inspire positive social change, enhancing the visibility of social issues through partnerships with community organizations using photographs as the medium.
Kory Thibeault, the fourth artist, is a friend from California, who came to help Amburgey shoot a documentary about her research. His photographs were taken during his stay in the region. The shared space of this exhibition highlighted the situated and overlapping perspectives of the different artists, expanding the notion of “belonging.”
When one belongs, the drastic consequences of ongoing processes become visible. Unpredictable weather patterns, extreme events, new diseases, and relocation of settlements, which might seem natural in harsh mountain environments for a passing visitor, become more than that to those who care to see. These are the new climate realities in the mountains.
“I believe that when Ladakhi elders talk about the fate of the glaciers of Ladakh, they are also reflecting on their own fate as their presence and influence decrease amid the dazzle of a new era,” Karine Gagne wrote in Caring for Glaciers.
The same could be said about Humla or Mustang or Khumbu, where the glaciers recede deep inside the valleys. The receding glaciers are entangled with the economic, socio-political, cultural, and generational changes. It is the dazzle of a new era that have now left those who remain in the villages looking toward the road.
The exhibition was curated by Rosaleen McAfee. It was co-sponsored by the Himalaya Program (funded by the Institute of Asian Research) and the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia.
Following the closing reception on April 23, Emily Amburgey invited Mark Turin, an associate professor of anthropology at UBC, and I to join her for a conversation on the changing practices of ethnography and the position of an ethnographer in the Himalayan context. The conversation continues.
A photo essay version of this exhibition was published online at Himalaya: The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies. It can be viewed here.
GlacierHub founder and managing editor Ben Orlove recently sat down with Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson, whose “Glacier” (“Jokull” in Icelandic) depicts the disappearing glaciers of his homeland. His monochromatic images were recently displayed during a solo show at Reykjavik’s Asmundarsalur Museum.
Scale. With the exception of some images in the section “Caves,” most of the photographs seem to be of a large scale, showing areas hundreds or thousands of meters across. This relative uniformity gives a unity to the book. Did you plan this scale, or did it emerge as you took the photographs?
I worked with Einar Geir Ingvarsson, the designer of the book and the exhibition, to ping-pong ideas how the book should look like. We decided to give the readers their own ideas and view the surface of the glacier with an open mind and imagine the scale of the glacier. On the first pages in the book, one can see small people, who give a hunch of how big everything is from the air.
The ice caves are different as the caves are not very big and in the photographs, the faces in the ice walls are from the two-meter-wall up to 20 meters long. It was planned when photographing inside the ice caves to look into the walls of ice and see all the figures or figurative forms in the 1,000-year-old ice, not just showing an ice cave as a cave. The ice that is melting in those caves fell on the glacier as snow at the time when the first settlers came to Iceland. The book is thought of as an ode to the Icelandic glaciers—like a poem in photographs.
Orientation: The majority of the photographs are entirely filled with the glacier, though some (especially in “Peaks”) include a bit of sky. And most of them are at a medium oblique angle, rather than being taken directly from above, or shot at a low angle. What are the strengths of this angle and framing?
It was a decision in the beginning not to have a horizon in most of the photographs. The first photograph in the book showing Snæfellsjökull, which will disappear in a few decades, is the only one with a horizon. That photograph is thought of as showing a glacier as it is today and make people think when flipping through the book what will be the fate of the Icelandic glaciers. They are all going to melt to the ocean. The photographs were taken from all kind of different angles to show the different states and the diversity of the glaciers.
Human presence 1: People are absent from your photographs, though one section titled “Runes” signals the long presence of Icelanders in the country. What do you see as the effects of this focus on uninhabited spaces, without even any humans as temporary visitors?
There are small figures in two photographs in the book. It is on the first pages and it is to show as a scale how overwhelming and huge the glaciers are. We wanted to take the readers on a journey over the glaciers. The readers have to dream and solve the riddle or just imagine how huge the glaciers are. In “Runes,” one can find all kinds of figures and faces on the surface of the glacier. Those runes come from volcano ash from past eruptions in Iceland. There are very few places on earth where it can be seen. I wanted to show those figures forming a story where the glacier is talking to us. If you look for some time on a certain photograph you can find all kind of figures, like on the front page of the book you can make out a bird. All those figures are melting to the ocean.
Human presence 2: Perhaps it is my imagination, but I see a human figure, leaning forward and tilted a bit to the right, in the first image in “Caves” (p. 130), and a huge face, with high cheekbones and a narrow mouth, in the second (p. 131). With these in mind, faces can been in two others (p. 134-135), and rows of figures as well (p. 133, 137). Does this mention of resemblances to human faces and figures strike any echoes with you?
You are right, there are faces in the 1,000-year ice walls in the caves. When I was photographing the ice caves it was on purpose to find those figures in the ice. You just have to move a few inches left or right then everything is changing in the ice walls. All kind of figures pops up. I want people to think about the glaciers as something alive, and the figures and faces in the glaciers are talking to us. What are they saying? They are all fading away to the ocean where circulation of water continues around the planet.
Climate change: The titles of the four final sections of the book (“Terminus,” “Lagoons,” “Rivers,” and “The Sea”) could be read as a narrative of glacier retreat, showing how glaciers are melting and contributing to sea level rise. But the photographs themselves offer striking, beautiful images of surfaces, much like the ones in earlier sections of the book. They seem to avoid a simple, scientific, didactic presentation of glacier melting. What choices did you make to compose these four sections and to select images for them? Do you wish the book to engage with issues of climate change?
All those chapters are showing the glaciers from the peak to the ocean. It is an abstract view of what is happening. Not many are really thinking about it, that this is really happening. We will not be around to see it, but the next generations will have to face something that is or might be a hard task to follow. All the glaciers in Iceland will melt in 150-200 years. Yes, we want the book to take a place as a little puzzle in a bigger picture showing what we will be facing in the future to come. We want people to think, the glaciers will all be gone at the speed of sound in the context to the age of Earth. We don’t want to preach, it is just a fact, as scientists tell us.
Relation to your other work. You are known for your work as a photographer for the leading Icelandic newspaper Morgunbladid and for your books “Faces of the North” (2005) and “Last Days of the Arctic” (2010), which present changing human cultures in a changing environment. How does this book Glacier connect with your earlier work?
It does not connect to my earlier work, it is totally different from the other books, more of an abstract landscape book, with a message.
Hopes for the future. What hopes do you have for this book? Has its reception to date met these hopes?
We have high hopes for this book. The exhibition where the book was launched went well. Around 1,2000 people came to see the photographs in Ásmundarsalur museum in Reykjavik. The book is in limited editions and will be, in the future, a collector’s item.
Additional comments: Are there any other thoughts that you would like to add?
Science is important and opens people’s eyes to what is happening. We think it is also very important to document the changes in the Arctic in photographs and make books about life and the changes that are happening extremely fast. Films and photography books support science and can open eyes to what is happening. Making a book about life in the Arctic is like a little puzzle in a bigger picture and it can open eyes to what is happening and for new ideas.
Click here to purchase a copy of Ragnar Axelsson’s “Glaciers.”
The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. This week, GlacierHub news is featuring the “Doomsday” glacier, a new study on GLOFS and climate change, subglacial lakes in Canada, and some beautiful aerial shots of the Rockies!
This week’s news report features:
Project Aims to Better Understand “Doomsday” Glacier
By: Andrew Angle
Summary: The largest joint United States-United Kingdom Antarctic project since the 1940s was announced at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration or ITGC will focus on the Thwaites glacier of West Antarctica, one of the world’s largest and fastest melting glaciers. A five-year collaboration between the U.S. National Science Foundation and U.K. Natural Environment Research Council worth $25 million will include six scientific field studies with over 100 scientists to analyze changes to the Thwaites and surrounding ocean.
Will Climate Change Be Responsible for More Glacial Lake Outburst Floods?
By: Natalie Belew
Summary: How certain is it that climate change increases the frequency and severity of glacier lake outburst floods or GLOFs? It turns out the answer is a bit complicated and the subject of a new study published in The Cryosphere. This recent study provides the first global assessment of the problems involved in developing a robust attribution argument for climate change and GLOF events.
Unprecedented Subglacial Lakes Discovered in the Canadian Arctic
By: Jade Payne
Summary: A joint study published last month in Science Advances predicted the presence of two hypersaline subglacial lakes. The lakes are located on either side of the east-west ice divide of the Devon Ice Cap, an ice cap located in Nunavut, Canada. The lakes could represent significant microbial habitats that could be used as analogs to study the conditions for potential life on other planets.
Summary: In lighter news, Garrett Fisher, a writer, photographer and adventurer, recently set out to capture the beauty of the Rockies. To do so, he flew an antique plane across the sky for aerial views of the last remaining glaciers in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. He was inspired by the need to document the glory of the Rockies before the glaciers disappear completely. His photos from the trip can be found in his recently published book, “Glaciers of the Rockies,” which features his collection of 177 carefully curated photos.
The environmental artist, Diane Burko, has been on the forefront of documenting the changing landscapes of climate change for several years, as GlacierHub has documented. Her latest exhibition, “Diane Burko: Vast and Vanishing,” will feature large-scale paintings and photographs that offer a striking look into the contrasting world of beauty and despair. It Is currently on display at the Rowan University Art Gallery in Glassboro, New Jersey, until April 21, 2018.
Diane Burko is well versed in combining art and science to communicate a message of urgency to those who view her work. She has long collaborated with scientists and researchers to accurately depict their work as well as our world in its state of impending change. She recently spoke with GlacierHub about her current exhibition, as well as her upcoming project on coral reef degradation which promises to take her work, and viewers, into new territory.
GlacierHub: Has the message of your latest exhibition, ”Vast and Vanishing,” evolved since your last series, or is it meant to be a continuation?
Diane Burko: The message is very much the same: we “live in perilous times.” What has changed is the dramatic intensity and speed with which we are all experiencing the effects of global warming on our planet. I guess you could say my personal sense of urgency has grown.
GH: What served as your main source of inspiration for ”Vast and Vanishing”?
DB: The work in this show summarizes my exploration of how data about melting glaciers can be used to explain climate change visually. Repeat photography, recessional lines, and Landsat imagery are sources I draw from to this end. By borrowing from scientific research, I am translating and transforming such devices into my visual lexicon.
GH: How do you choose which glaciers or landscapes to focus on?
DB: I work with some of the most dramatic examples of how climate change is affecting our landscapes – such as Columbia Glacier, Grinnell, and Jakobshavn in Greenland. These locations and their diminishing volume makes the need for urgency clear.
GH: Your recent work has involved heavily contrasting colors, especially white and black. I’m curious to know, what provoked this change?
DB: You may be referring to a specific group of works I made in 2016, the “Elegy Series.” I chose to use stark and somber contrasting forms of white and black or dark blue to invoke what an elegy is: a poem or lament for the dead. Each painting in this series is a fabrication that I created–and while they are not literal images of glaciers, their abstract, crackling forms reference aerial views of glacial landscapes. Each print is named after a glacier or area in the world whose existence is being threatened dramatically.
GH: I see in one of your Instagram posts that you have changed your cold-weather gear for diving equipment and flippers! How will your art change? Also, how does your new exhibition fit in with your new direction?
DB: My exhibition at Rowan covers paintings I’ve made over the past few years about climate change in glacial regions— and although I may return to the subject in the future, it is a really nice and well-timed bookend for that project. My glacial work is focused on looking at the past–the landscape in years prior— which contrasts with the present state in climate change.
I am now working on a new project called “Kai ‘Apapa,” investigating coral reef degradation alongside musicians Evan Ziporyn and Christine Southworth and scientist Samiah Moustafa— we’re producing a multimedia performance and installation with original music, which we hope to present over time at various venues.
I’m also working with the phenomenon of reef ecosystems in my personal painting practice where the challenge and attraction for me is to use this underwater imagery in a way that garners awareness and empathy for a threatened component of our planet.
This work is still evolving— leading me to l experiment with new materials and media such as lenticular images, light box presentations and video.
GH: I noticed you will be presenting your work and participating in an upcoming panel on April 5 at Rowan University. What are you most looking forward to?
DB: My work is deeply indebted to the support of members of the scientific community— as such, I’m so excited to learn from the other individuals on the panel, and from the discussion with the audience. Exchanging knowledge and learning from scientists really exists at the core of my artistic practice. I believe that engaging in conversations with people from a multitude of disciplines can lead to new depths of meaning aesthetically as well as intellectually.
Many people may never see a glacier or an iceberg up close, given issues of cost, inaccessibility and environmental changes. Yet artist Mariele Neudecker is making the experience a bit more accessible, as she transports a vision of the Arctic to galleries and museum floors.
Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, the 51-year-old lifelong artist now resides in Bristol, where she creates sculptures, photographs, films and paintings. Over the past 20 years, Neudecker has produced a wide range of landscape and still life artwork, much of which seeks to capture the essence of glaciers and icebergs.
In an interview with GlacierHub, Neudecker walks us through the journey behind her glacier artwork. A condensed and edited version of the conversation follows.
GH: I understand the Zeppelin Museum installation is not the first project you have done focusing on glaciers.
MN: I have done a lot of work with [19th century landscape painter] Caspar David Friedrich paintings and converting them into 3D tank pieces. The first one I did in 1997 was clearly using ice in a reference to his painting “Sea of Ice.”
GH: What attracted you to ice and glacier themed art back in 1997, when you first incorporated Arctic ice elements into your artwork?
MN: It [my work] was more of an exploration of landscapes. I looked at mountains, forests and the ocean. However, I always thought the remoteness and difficulty to imagine the Arctic created an interesting perception… It is about the subject of glaciers and the Arctic, but fundamentally it’s about perceptions and how we have longings to be somewhere else. You can transport people to other places through paintings, films and all sorts of artwork.
The Arctic has always been a metaphor for climate change and human shortcomings, so there are a lot of cliché images of glaciers representing the environment. That has provoked me to add other layers to that representation. The challenge is to avoid the clichés.
GH: What was the most difficult feeling to capture that you wanted to convey to viewers?
MN: I wanted to hint at the unknown and to highlight that all we see are little fragments of something much bigger. It’s hard to capture the feeling of standing in massive open spaces where you are trapped in your eye sockets and you must turn your head to take it all in.
It’s similar to deep sea projects I have done, where the camera is in the black depths of the ocean and only with artificial light can you see a fraction of the spaces. You know how massive the space is, but you only see a tiny piece of it.
GH: What was the most surprising to you when you were out in the field capturing glaciers?
MN: The sound! That really threw me. I had no idea how loud they were. Camping on the side of a glacier the silence and then the sounds that interrupted that silence were so powerful. I’ve seen a million images of glaciers, but no one told me about the sounds.
I tried to record them but I wasn’t able to capture it well. That would be a future project I would love to do.
GH: Before you went to Greenland, all of your Arctic work was derived from images and paintings. What sparked your first trip to Greenland in May of 2012?
MN: I was lucky to spend a week with the American writer Gretel Ehrlich, who has written beautiful books about Greenland and ice. Before my experience with her I felt I could do my work with my imagination and images, but after [that week] I wanted to have the experience of being out there in the open space that her books described so amazingly well.
I was in Greenland for a month, but I spent a week with Gretel and two subsistence hunters and two teams of sled dogs. A major component [of my project] was to experience the history of photography in reverse as I made my way through the trip. I started with HD digital… all the way back to a pinhole camera at the end. I had 12 cameras in total. I spent the following few weeks on my own [not counting the guides], traveling to fjords and far northern reaches of Greenland. There were these very remote places with villages of only 12 inhabitants. It was extraordinary seeing how those people lived.
GH: What was your favorite camera to shoot with?
MN: I like the Polaroid. It was slightly unpredictable and it produced tiny pictures. I liked the absurdity of capturing immense spaces in tiny pictures.
GH: Could you give me an overview of the Zeppelin Museum exhibit and walk me through some of the main pieces?
MN: I will start with most recent piece of the exhibition, which is the afterlife piece of the boat in the ice. The whole thing started with the ship… it struck me as looking like one of those early Arctic explorer ships. I didn’t want to be too literal in following Casper David’s ship stuck in the ice, so I kept it abstract and cropped the ice around where the ship is set in. I also decided to add [videos] in the whole exhibition to give an element of space and constant moving and change. I then added layers with the 3D effects with the blue and red separation, which I had never done before… it took me a while to dare myself to do it but I sprayed one side of the boat red and the other blue to link it to the 3D images that were on the wall.
GH: How did you use the 3D images and the videos to create the moving effect?
MN: When you walk into the space the white ice surface stretches all the way to the sidewalls and the back walls and monitors with the film and moving images are synchronized, so that the images are either pushing towards you or moving away. There is a constant feeling of washing in and out.
GH: What was the process behind the 3D and stereoscopic images of the glaciers?
MN: It is disappointingly easy – you just point and shoot. I have a camera with two lenses, and it creates these double files, so in 3D stills it generates two images. Then you have the choice of either using the two images for stereoscopic viewings or putting it into Photoshop, which generates these red and blue color images.
GH: It seems that you are trying to immerse the viewer in the Arctic world with the swaying room and various 3D pieces. MN: That is true, but at the same time I aim to make that experience last only so long. Inevitably, you realize that you are standing on the floor of a museum and the illusion collapses. The art is interesting when your imagination takes over, but there is no way to simulate actually being on the glacier.