On his most recent trip to Greenland, photographer Ciril Jazbec witnessed something magical—a photographic experience that made his “hairs stand on end.” He was there working on his project, On Thin Ice, a chapter in a larger body of work chronicling the effects of climate change on communities in low-lying regions.
While in Uummannaq, (which is surprisingly the eleventh-largest town in Greenland, even with a population of about 1,200 people) Jazbec came across Children’s Home Uummannaq. Speaking with the director, he learned that one of the ways the facility helps children is by “involving them in the traditional way of life, connecting them with hunters and fishermen”—the sort of cultural traditions often affected by changing weather patterns and globalization, and right in the crux of Jazbec’s goal of putting a human face on climate change.
One night, Children’s Home arranged to take the kids on a special outing—“We decided to head to the ice—to the frozen-over sea—to project Inuk, a Greenlandic language film, onto an iceberg,” Ciril says. The film is especially relevant because of its cast of “nonprofessional Inuit actors”—seal hunters and youth from a local children’s home—and its narrative highlighting the tension between tradition and modernity present in contemporary Greenland.
“In a visual sense, it was one of the craziest things I’ve ever experienced. It’s hard for me to describe how much it inspired me and how touched I was. Just coming onto the ice with snowmobiles was immensely exciting. Before the projector was set up, the children did a couple of dances and sang some Greenlandic songs. I only watched the first 10 minutes of the movie and then I decided to use the tripod to discreetly shoot multi-second exposure photos, trying to capture the images illuminated by the projection. I remember a moment where I laid down on the ice, I was watching the stars and the northern lights, and I thought to myself, ‘this is a very special moment.’”
Screening a film onto an iceberg sounds logistically complicated . . . and cold. Jazbec says the preparation took a few days. “We did some recon on the ice to find a suitable iceberg and prepared a DVD player and sound system powered by a gasoline-fueled generator. The seats were just sleds covered with deer and musk ox skin.” And as for the temperature? “The weather was provided by some higher power . . . It was perfect, about –4 degrees Fahrenheit, with no wind and the most beautiful starry night sky sprayed with northern lights.”
As children caught between the old ways and the new sat transfixed by the film, their faces illuminated with light from the digital projector, Jazbec felt he was able to record images that “don’t just tell the story of a moment, but also capture a larger story about modern Greenland—remote towns caught up in globalization, about young people leaving for the cities.”
“I’m not interested in merely taking pretty pictures of communities undergoing momentous changes, I’m looking to create a long-term life’s work that stands as a document of a time and a people who lived in this time, reminding us of how things used to be and cautioning us that our planet is delicate and fragile.”
Learn more about the film Inuk on its site.
Ciril Jazbec’s project, On Thin Ice, will be on view in an exhibition at the Les Rencontres Arles Photographie from July 7-September 21, 2014. See more of Jazbec’s work on his website. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.