Arctic Visions: Pictures from a Vanished World. A Review

landscape pictures
by barnyz

Arctic Visions: Pictures from a Vanished World / Fred Bruemmer (Key Porter, 2008) Hardcover, 278 p. ISBN 9781554700929

In Arctic Visions, Fred Bruemmer documents the vanishing world north of the Arctic Circle. In recent years, the Arctic ice itself has started to vanish in our warmer climate, but before that, a whole way of life that the Inuit people had lived for thousands of years underwent abrupt change. Bruemmer spent the years from 1964 to 1995 among the Inuit to learn and photograph what remained of the old ways.

Life in the Arctic was always harsh, and the Inuit people were never numerous. Unlike people living almost anywhere else in the world, they could not dominate their environment and therefore had to live on its terms. One could hardly speak of traditional Inuit villages. Their camps consisted of no more than 20 families, separated from others by vast distances. Until European explorers arrived in the mid eighteenth-century, they knew of no other people or conditions on earth.

Among other things, the newcomers brought new diseases that devastated the Inuit population living wherever major contact occurred. Still, by 1945 the vast majority of Canada’s Inuit lived in traditional camps largely isolated from the rest of the world. In the 1950s the Canadian government decided to resettle them to villages and towns where they could learn the dominant culture.

Meanwhile, Bruemmer was learning to be a photojournalist, working as a traveling freelancer. A magazine assignment for an article on the new towns for the Inuit inspired him to document the old way of life. For thirty years, he spent up to six months of every year in the Arctic. He simply showed up in a camp, asked if he could live there, and, never being sent away, participated in the life of the camp and learned how to survive there. He never returned to where he knew people in order to learn the different traditions and methods of each region. All the while, he listened to stories, took copious notes, and took took lots of pictures.

As the subtitle indicates, Life in the Arctic is largely a photographic record. Many pages consist only of a single black and white image with a caption. He also writes well in his prose descriptions of the people and practices that he came to know and love. All-Purpose Guru Alert seeks the best bargain books and highlights one carefully selected title every day.

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