The Arctic is at a critical turning point. For most of human history, the forbidding region has been inaccessible to all but a few small groups of indigenous subsistence communities and elite European explorers. The twentieth century brought new exploration and increased industrial activity to these remote northern areas, but the cold winters and ice-packed oceans have proved to be formidable barriers to mass industrial expansion …until now.
Global climate change has recently resulted in the warmest years on record, while increasing worldwide energy consumption has led to more aggressive searches for fossil fuels and other mineral resources. As the planet warms, and the sea ice melts at a record pace, stakeholders in energy, extraction, shipping, fishing, development, and tourism are gearing up to take advantage of the region’s suddenly increasing accessibility. Some small towns are poised to become major hubs for transportation and extractive industry, while long fabled sea routes, including the Northwest Passage, are about to become viable for commercial shipping and tourism. Meanwhile many coastal communities are rapidly preparing to move inland before their hometowns are inundated by rising tides.
My goal, over many years, is to document in photographs the colonization of a new space, and to record the dramatic changes certain to occur in the remote areas of northern Alaska, Canada, Norway, Greenland, and Russia. In the summer of 2013, I traveled with Michael Burger, a creative writer and environmental lawyer, to northern Norway — the most fully developed Arctic region, where government and industrial entities are preparing to take advantage of the substantial changes just beginning to take shape.