Monday, 01 September 2014

UN in your language

A picture tells a thousand year old story

Photo: RAXIt has been said about Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson´s photo of an elderly woman in Greenland that it captures the history of a thousand years.

Axelsson, who signs his photo as RAX, has been a news photographer for Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið for three decades, but his photographs and picture essays have been published in LIFE, National Geographic, Le Figaro, Stern, La Vanguardia, TIME, to name but a few.

Axelsson was partly brought up on an isolated farm on the south coast of Iceland, where he became fascinated with nature and its forms. “It was really one photograph that started me off” he says. “An old man in a rowing boat and his dog on a skerry. I thought to myself: these men are vanishing. If I don’t photograph them now, no one will remember them and no one will know that they ever existed.”

This is precisely what has attracted Axelsson to Greenland which he has visited 25-30 times during the last three decades.

These visits are the basis of his book “Last days of the Arctic” and the documentary of the same name which has been screened on BBC and Arte in Europe. It illustrates the beauty and harsh realities of Greenland and the immense changes taking place due to climate change – perhaps the disappearance of a 4-4,000 year old culture of Inuit hunters.

The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on earth. This rapid climate change is having a devastating effect on the region’s ecology and, consequently, on the society of the Inuit people who depend on the arctic ice for their livelihood and culture.

“The ice that once stretched far into the horizon is now open sea,” says Axelsson. “The number of hunters decreases every year and it is becoming increasingly hard to survive by hunting alone. One envisions the end of a society based on a thousand-year-old hunting tradition.”

Only time will tell if these predictions come true, but it is comforting that RAX has chronicled and preserved it for future generations.

 

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