NORTH OF THE WALL
Pryramiden, Svalbard 2019
I know Pyramiden quite well - I have visited 4 times. It is a largely abandoned Russian mining town that sits at 78.2 degrees north - making it the most northerly community in the world. Only six people now live there full time, but it remains a ghostly reminder of the USSR. Soviet culture, architecture and politics permeate the town, from the block-style housing to the bust of Lenin—the world’s northernmost statue of that communist revolutionary— which gazes down, fatherly and proud, on Pyramiden’s main square.
I have always wanted to get a big photograph of this creepy place, but I needed winter, winds and a palpable sense of the frozen north. This is not a place to photograph in the summer. Most of all I needed a polar bear. In early spring 2019, I had my moment.
There is enough detail in the background layer of this photograph to make out factory buildings, chimneys, carts and tracks and indeed a disused mineshaft. The light was kind and the wind ferocious. With the wind chill, this was as cold as I can remember working with a camera. I had to wear one glove and manual focus was not easy. This was not a time to use autofocus on that bear - not with the wind and medley of whites.
The photograph is a indeed a big photograph - bigger than I could have possibly wished for. There is a large amount of luck involved as the adult female bear came into town at the perfect time - one of just 5 adult bears we saw in Svalbard that week.
This is the land of norse legends, myths and fables. The photograph is so visually detached from our day to day experiences that it looks like a fairytale or a painting. This is surely my Game of Thrones moment and now I have seen what is North of the Wall.
This photograph was taken whilst leading an assignment with @naturalworldsafaris - a special thank you to the brilliant team there for organising the adventure.