Ragnar Axelsson Where the World is Melting
In the regions around the Arctic, change is happening more quickly than anywhere else on Earth. Where the World Is Melting is about documenting the lives of the people living there.
Sea ice and glaciers are melting fast, and small hunting villages are being abandoned as Inuit hunting grounds are no longer sustainable. A thousand-year-old tradition of hunter-societies is on the decline. Documenting their life for the whole world to see is vital, it is a life unfamiliar to most people. Future generations living in the Arctic will be facing a different reality.
This series comes from more than four decades of work and experience. When I was a young boy, I read the stories of the great Arctic explorers and their adventures in the most remote places of our planet. It was an eyeopener for me, realising that those voyagers were fighting for their lives in unforgiving storms and extreme cold. They were travelling on dogsleds, living in tents, and houses made of snow. Their Arctic journeys took years, and not all those brave adventurers came back. Their passion was to explore something unknown and bring back knowledge to the rest of the world. Most of the explorers had support from local people, who lived on the edge of the world and knew how to survive in the cold. Those stories stuck in my mind. Time has passed, and things have changed: the sea ice is no longer thick and safe as it was back then.
After accompanying Arctic hunters for almost forty years, witnessing the changes in Greenland’s sea ice, and sensing friends’ and hunters’ worries about their future, one cannot look away. There is no doubt in their minds that something is happening. When passing a house in Thule some thirty years ago, an old hunter said, “There is something wrong. It should not be like this. The big ice is sick.” I started to look at things in a different way back then, I had the feeling early on when travelling to the Arctic that it had to be documented and photographed for the world to see and to be preserved as history.
The glaciers in Iceland are melting and retreating, the Siberian tundra is thawing, and wildfires are raging. There are signs everywhere. It has been warmer before on the planet, and it has been colder. It is known in history that the glaciers have been smaller before, and they have also been bigger. But Earth is now in the phase of warming up, and scientists are giving us warnings. There is no reason to ignore them. Where there is life, there is hope, and people living in the Arctic must have that hope just as much as the rest of the world. There are also opportunities. There are solutions. We must never forget that.
About the photographer
Reykjavik, Iceland, 1958
For more than forty years, Axelsson, also known as Rax, has been photographing the people, animals and landscape of the most remote regions of the Arctic, including Iceland, Siberia and Greenland. He documents how the relationships of people with their extreme environments are being profoundly altered by climate change.
He was a photojournalist at Morgunbladid, the leading Icelandic newspaper, (1976–2020), and has worked on freelance assignments in Latvia, Lithuania, Mozambique, South Africa, China and Ukraine.
Axelsson’s work has been exhibited widely, both in Iceland and internationally. He has received more than 20 Icelandic photojournalism awards, as well as an honourable mention in the Leica Oskar Barnack Award (2001), and been shortlisted for the same prize (2020). He won the Grand Prix at the Festival International de la Photo de Mer, Vannes, France (2003), and his book Andlit Nordursins (English edition, Faces of The North) won the 2016 Icelandic Literary Prize for non-fiction.
His photographs have been featured in Life, Newsweek, Stern, GEO, National Geographic, Time and Polka Magazine.
Axelsson has published a total of eight books, including Jökull (Glacier) (2018) and, most recently, Arctic Heroes (2020).
He is a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Falcon, Iceland’s highest honour.
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