Photography Project in Progress
Since 2021 I have been working on a photo book project exploring the remote Arctic landscape of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, a former indigenous hunting ground that has been reshaped by its history as a Cold War American air base and the impact of climate change. Over the past 80 years, Kangerlussuaq has evolved into a distinctive — often surreal and quirky — environment unlike other Greenlandic towns and settlements.
See images below and more information about the series.
Combining my photographs, vintage photos from archives, and short texts, I am planning a photo book about how human decisions and activity over the past 80 years have strikingly altered the land and ecology, both physically and culturally. Over three visits in 2021-2023 I have completed the principal photography, identified vintage photographs in archives, and gathered stories and information from past and current residents, American and Danish veterans, and scholars who have worked there. My photo book will be the first book of any kind in any language about Kangerlussuaq. The task ahead of me is to shape the rich and extensive cache of raw material that I have collected into book form in a way that does justice to this complex, multi-dimensional story.
Kangerlussuaq was founded by the US Air Force as what became known as Sondrestrom Air Base from 1941 to 1992. The site at the end of a 118-mile-long fjord just above the Arctic Circle was chosen for the most dependable flying weather in Greenland, and with the construction of a runway capable of landing heavy planes and base infrastructure it attracted foreign business interests and became a scientific research hub. Today some 500 people live here. Repurposed and abandoned buildings and obsolete machinery remain, as do some 20,000 musk oxen descended from 27 imported in an effort to preserve the species in the 1960s. In 1999, Volkswagen Motors of Germany built a 19-mile road through the tundra from the town to the ice sheet covering 80% of Greenland for a short-lived, highly secretive, project to test drive cars year-round on the ice. The project lasted just two years before being abandoned but the road's end provides a benchmark for the ravages of climate change. Formerly the place where the auto testing crew could drive right onto the ice sheet edge toward their inland track, it is now the top of a long gravel slope uncovered by melting ice as its margin retreats each summer. The impacts of melting ice are also noticeable miles downstream; erosion from the increased flow of water from the melting ice and the soupy swirl of silt it carries are visible along the river from the ice cap to the fjord.
Inspiration and Collaboration: My first brief stay in Kangerlussuaq in August 2018 was as the final 24-hour stop on an educationally oriented tour of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, a day that included a visit to the Kangerlussuaq Museum, which then focused on 20th-century military and aviation history, and a bus trip to the ice sheet that covers 80% of Greenland. I recognized Kangerlussuaq as a site combining two themes that I had explored in the Baltimore Ecosystem Study project and Walking in Antarctica: how human activity and infrastructure become part of a site's ecology, and the geological features of polar environments. I established a collaborative relationship with the Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq Museums and received a Rubys Award for Baltimore artists from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation for my first trip, which was postponed due to the pandemic until September 2021.
Kangerlussuaq Museum Installation: The past and current directors of the Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq Museums have provided historical information and logistical assistance. In turn, they were interested in updating exhibits that had remained unchanged for over 25 years to focus on the surrounding environment and then-and-now comparisons of the area during the base days and today that I sourced from Danish and US archives and a local resident. On September 7, 2023, a new two-room permanent exhibit funded with the assistance of the US Embassy in Copenhagen Small Grants Program opened, shown in the above images. I designed, produced, wrote wall text for, and installed it in collaboration with museum director Dorthe Katrine Olsen. It includes 22 of my photographs, 12 vintage photographs and a hand-painted sculpture based on a 3D scan of a small portion of the ice sheet, a process that I also used in my Walking in Antarctica project.