Smeerenburg, the Dutch Whaling Settlement

We spent a couple of days in the thrall of the astounding Smeerenburgbreen, the glacier named for the nearby 16th century Dutch whaling settlement of Smeerenburg. This was possibly the largest glacier we saw during our trip but it certainly had the greatest presence; muffled thunder and sudden cracks sounded out a few times an hour, and calving ice rocked our ship all through the nights.

 

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The Antigua at Smeerenburgbreen. For scale, the ship’s mainmast is 31.5 meters tall and the face of the glacier is ~60 meters

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Being such an active glacier meant stunning blue ice and water full of icebergs and littler bergs, hissing and crackling like effervescent soda pop in the ocean. The contrast between the quiet, still moments where you could hear the soft lapping of the water at the edges of the ice and the sudden cracks and crashes of the calves… it was really a magical place.

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Two of our guides and Nemo at one of our landings

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A sunset at Smeerenburgbreen

The area provided several great spots to land, lots of floebergs (beached icebergs) for the art residents to work with, and some quiet time where we got to stay in place for more than a day. After our stay at the glacier, we visited what was left of the settlement of Smeerenburg, which translates to “Blubber Town”. Located on the little island of Amsterdamøya, not much remains aside from scattered logs and bricks. A single whale vertebrae, a couple decrepit blubber ovens and the yellow, fat-saturated ground still oily with the remnants of the whales.

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Leaving Smeerenburgbreen in the fog and clouds

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Smeerenburg whaling settlement

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What’s left of the blubber ovens

Here’s an updated map of our trip so far! Coming up, some epic mountains and equally epic disappointment when the weather turns against us.

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Antigua Antigua, Katherine

I’ve returned, with all my digits, to an exceedingly autumnal New York City. My time in Svalbard was everything I had hoped but nothing like what I had expected. I’m going to write a few posts over the next weeks telling you about the trip itself, where we went, what we saw and learned, and hopefully after some time has passed and the experience has sunk in a bit more I’ll start to process my photos and impressions into some more eloquent and interesting pieces.

Despite my laptop dying at the end of the trip and one pretty epic bout of seasickness, the trip was a total success. I’m really looking forward to getting film processed this week and to brainstorming with my friend and collaborator Emilie Lundstrøm as we bring a show together.

View from the Antigua

View from the Antigua

So, here’s a little intro to what my trip was like! I lived aboard a barkentine sailboat with about thirty other people, including a wonderfully funny crew and four passionate, kind wilderness guides. Oh, and don’t forget Nemo, our guard dog! He was so good at his job we didn’t see a single polar bear during our trip. The ship, the Antigua, was a beautiful place to call home for a few weeks. We even had the weather in our favor a few times and were able to help the crew hoist the sails so we could sail rather than run the motor!

The view from my bunk's porthole

The view from my bunk’s porthole

Our very first stop was at a glacier, which met all of my highest expectations immediately. The glacier, Sveabreen, was fairly active but also had an inactive end that we could land right near, allowing us to touch the glacier in safety. It was a spectacular way to start the trip.

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Nemo and the Antigua at Sveabreen

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Touching a glacier for the first time!

I’ll write more about our following landings and travels soon. Again, I simply must give thanks to all of the people who supported my trip, including those who helped get me to Svalbard as well as the guides and companions who helped make the experience so wonderful.

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Sveabreen glacier

Gearing Up, Heading Out

We’re finally here, go-time for my participation in the Arctic Circle Residency! I fly out in just a few short days, and can’t thank you all enough for the love and support I’ve received over the last year. I will be posting a little update from Stockholm and possibly Longyearbyen, but once I am on board the beautiful Antigua. I will have no internet connection until we’ve come back to Longyearbyen at the end of our journey. You will hear from me again upon my arrival to Oslo after the sailing trip.

Until then, here’s a little summary of all the necessary stuff I am taking with me. Although I’ve managed to keep it pared down, you still need a lot of good winter clothing and shooting with both film and digital equipment can really add up.

Wondering how to put all those clothes to good use in cold weather? Check out the video below on how to dress for arctic temperatures!

Email subscribers, go here to watch the above videos!

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Special shout out to my good friend Claire, who has given me the most amazing wool scarf for this trip! I tested it out last winter, when temperatures in NYC reached 15°F. You can check out more of her scarves, all crocheted by hand, at her Esty. Thanks Claire!!

The Intrepid Photographer

I am unbelievably excited to be the caretaker of a beautiful new Intrepid 4×5 camera. The Intrepid Camera Company got its start with an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, and now they are in the throes of production, pumping out lightweight, folding 4×5 cameras for photography enthusiasts all over the world.

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I’ve been asked many times, Why shoot 4×5? Isn’t it expensive? And slow? And frustrating? And the answer is yes! It is very expensive, clocking in at about $2-$3 a pop for a single shot of film (not including processing, which brings that up to $5-$6 per shot!) It is also super time consuming, sure! Loading the sheets of film into film carriers, setting up the camera and taking measurements to align a shot, loading the film, firing… the whole process can take an hour or better. On top of the expense, both financial and time wise, there’s an incredibly high chance that your photograph will not come out, compared to shooting roll films. Even the most seasoned Large Format photographers will nod along to this fact; so much more can wrong, but the risk of that is totally, totally worth it!

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Walker Evans with a large format camera by Peter Seker

The slowness and size of shooting a 4×5 is exactly why some photographers love it so much. Not only is the final product more high-resolution, sharp and crisp than any digital camera out there, but the slowness is a great boon to some of us who have a tendency to rush. Just as oil paints allow a painter to work over the canvas for an elongated period, the large format process draws out the act of photographing from a snapshot moment to a thoughtful 20 minutes or more. The medium simply dictates a different mode of working, and that choice can have a massive affect on the final product (just as the choice between oil and water color would).

The Intrepid Camera is going to be the perfect 4×5 for this residency in Svalbard, and probably for a lot of work thereafter. I’ll be sure to report back on its performance upon my return, and I look forward to sharing some of the great images I take with you all, too!

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Collaborations and Valkyries

I’m incredibly pleased to talk a bit about the work of one of my MFA classmates and dearest friends, Emilie Lundstrøm. A native of Denmark, Emilie grew up on a tiny island, sailing to school every day and living deeply in tune with the natural world around her. Working with a repetition of shapes and organic materials, her work reflects her nordic heritage as well as her profound curiosity for and love of nature.

A sculptural installation by Emilie Lundstrøm

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Little fox made by Emilie Lundstrøm

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My Valkyries

Emilie and I had many opportunities to work together during our time in the MFA program at ICP-Bard, from books to symposiums to installing our thesis shows back-to-back. I’m super pleased to be working with her again on a big project, bringing her heritage and norse mythology into conversation with my experience in Svalbard and the history of exploration in the arctic. We’re hoping for this collaboration to produce at least a show, if not books in addition.

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Sculpture by Emilie Lundstrøm

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Sculptural installation by Emilie Lundstrøm

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Sculpture of handmade ceramic flutes with tubing and artist, Emilie Lundstrøm

I can’t wait to fill you all in on more details, but that will have to wait for a while yet! Until then, peruse some of Emilie’s amazing work and maybe get yourself a Valkyrie for a little extra luck and protection. Worn into battle by the Vikings and found in ancient burial contexts, the Valkyrie is a symbol or protection, fortitude and luck. Emilie has given me some of her handmade ceramic and porcelain Valkyries for my journey north!

What to Wear

I’ve been asked a lot of questions about the weather and conditions in Svalbard during my trip there next fall. How much sunlight will there be? How cold will it be, will there be a lot of snow?

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These are all great questions, so I thought I’d answer them here!

-Svalbard is located between about 78° and 80° North, making it just 10-12 degrees shy of the North Pole.

-Svalbard experiences about 125 days of Midnight Sun and about 112 days of Polar Night. Every day that I am in Svalbard will be shorter by about half an hour, which definitely will make me, as a photographer, work under pressure!

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-The arctic is a desert, so despite the presence of snow and ice the humidity is very low and dry skin and chapped lips are a serious concern! The chance of precipitation doubles over the course of October, so I will expect some snow while I’m there but not an inconvenient amount.

So what about the temperature, you ask? Well, given the weather we’ve been having here in New York and New England this winter, it really won’t be all too cold! I will experience a high of about 30°F and a low of 14°F, averaging around 20°F without windchill. That being said, it’s very rarely sunny in Svalbard! So although there is not much windchill to take into account, there also isn’t much sunshine to warm you up.

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NOPE. not anymore.

Given all of the above, how does one dress for this climate? You might be imagining mountainous fur coats and gargantuan parkas, but that’s not the best tactic for dressing in this kind of climate.

I made a little video to summarize what I learned about dressing for the arctic, which you can watch below. (Email subscribers click here to watch!)

One Week Left!

With one week left, I could still use some help with my fundraising! Any money donated from here on out will go to my plane ticket to Svalbard, and will earn you a super special gift! Watch the video to find out more!

Last Push!

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Consider supporting the arts instead of corporations this holiday season with a tax deductible art purchase that will go towards my Arctic Circle Residency!

I am 90% of the way to funding my minimum goal, help me with this final push!

Hatchfund: Help me get to Svalbard!

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As you may have gathered from this blog, I am participating in The Arctic Circle Residency in Fall 2015! The residency, beginning in 2009, gives artists, scientists and educators the opportunity for collaboration, experimentation and exploration onboard a specially outfitted sailboat in the far north of Norway.

My work explores the spirit of human exploration and the history of Arctic expeditions, and on this residency I also hope to raise awareness for the region whose landscape is changing with the ongoing climate shifts. If you appreciate art, travel, Scandinavia, and budding artists – or if you still believe in the intrepid human spirit, consider supporting this project. Everything helps, including spreading the word!

Visit my Hatchfund page to learn more about the project and, perhaps, to help me out.