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Avannaa by Tiina Itkonen

book of the year (so far!)

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, April 22, 2015

This is a book review I’ve spent longer than usual thinking about. I’ve wanted to get it out there, but at the same time not rush it, because the subject really is something quite special. And I’ve been busy with a lot of other stuff so finding time hasn’t been easy.  The subject is Tiina Itkonen’s book, Avannaa, for which I was pleased to be able to contribute to the crowdfunding campaign.

Avannaa

Avannaa is subtitled “Photographs of Greenlandic Landscapes”, but it is much more than that. It is an expression of one person’s discovery and connection with a faraway world that most of us can only dream of. And unlike so much landscape photography, especially that in the polar latitudes, which largely consists of trophy hunting, this is the product of a long term, deep relationship with both the natural and human landscapes. Added to that, Tiina Itkonen as a photographer has a delicate, precise touch which brings alive the subject matter, and communicates her passion for Greenland, without falling into the trap of the over-processed, superficial quick thrill effects which are so commonplace these days. 

These photographs are clearly born from patient observation, of clicking the shutter only when the moment demands it, rather than from rushing around snapping everything in sight and hoping that something can be made of it all later. They have plenty to say, but prefer to say it quietly. The strong visual and thematic coherence add to the sense of depth and meaning.

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Uummannaq II, Greenland 2007 © Tiina Itkonen

You can dwell over the landscapes in Avannaa without them grabbing you by the throat. Every new visit reveals something else, and serves to increase appreciation for the photographer’s talent. This is not the kind of photography which is going to appear on the front page of “Awesome Digital SLR Photography Monthly”, or gain 1000+ faves on 500px, but it could well grace the walls of art photography lovers, which is probably why Itkonen is better known in the art photography world, with serious gallery representation, than in the camera buying world.  Indeed, there is not one word about cameras or technology in either Avannaa or the earlier Inghuit.  Having said that, the technical quality of the photography is flawless. As a large proportion of the photography is in panoramic format, with a ratio of 3:1, and has a very film-like palette, with remarkable detail, one could guess at the use of 6x17 camera. But it really doesn’t matter.

It takes a lot of dedication to complete a body of work such as this. Greenland, although reasonably accessible these days, is still a remote a difficult place to get to grips with. Many people would consider a quick summer flight to Nuuk, or even Kulusuk, as epic enough, but reaching the communities of the north-west coast, and living amongst them not only in summer, but also in winter, and repeating the experience time and again, well this ventures well into the territory of obsession.

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Masaitsiaq 1998 © Tiina Itkonen

In her earlier work, Inughuit, Itknonen focused on the Greenlandic people, mainly through intimate portraits of daily life. In Avannaa the people are still there, but the landscape now takes centre stage. However, you still get the strong feeling that the landscape is shaped and given meaning by the people who live in it.  This is the big difference between the High Arctic and the Antarctic. The Antarctic really is an alien place, survivable only in artificial circumstances.  But the High Arctic, as terrifying as it may seem to a comfortable West European, is and has been home to many, many generations, and these people have given the landscape life through myth, legend, and everyday life. The landscape and it’s inhabitants are closely intertwined, and removing one or the other from any photographic representation removes the magic.

If I had to find something to criticise, it would only be a slight regret that the format isn’t a little bigger, so that the panoramic frames do not have to run across two pages. But the economics of book publishing these days probably push that kind of luxury out of the bounds of reason.

I guess you can tell I like this book. I’m looking forward to Tiina Itkonen’s next works. You can - and should - buy Avannaa here.

A couple of shots of the book, to give a general idea:

Avannaa 001
Avannaa 002
Avannaa 003
 

Tiina Itkonen Greenland book

A deserving cause

in Book Reviews , Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A little while ago I wrote about Tiina Itkonen’s Greenland photography.  Well, a few days ago I received an email from her announcing a crowdfunding campign to publish a book, “AVANNAA – PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK OF GREENLAND´S LANDSCAPE”.

Currently 22 funders have raised €1570. Basically funding equates to a pledge to buy the book. A pledge of €115 additionally gets you a copy of Tiina’s earlier, sold out book, “Inughuit”. Also on offer are limited edition prints.

Seems a pretty good cause to me.

 

 

 

Greenland

paradise lost

in Travel , Sunday, April 20, 2014

Looking through Tiina Itkonen‘s Greenland images I can’t help remembering my one and only visit to Greenland, some 14 years ago. I spent 3 weeks in August 1999 with a small group trekking west and north of Tasiilaq. I had various motives for this trip, one being to be able to get away from daily routine and decide if I wanted to make a big change in my life, another was to try to recapture the memories I had of the Antarctic Peninsula, still another was to purge the memory of a fairly disastrous trip to Venezuela. Oh, and of course to visit Greenland.

greenland_001

On most counts it was a success. I enjoyed the environment, the company, and the welcome we got from the local people. I even enjoyed eating whale meat (seal, not so much). But on a photography level it was a total disaster. Something went badly wrong with my Canon A1, either the exposure meter was defective, or it mis-read in low temperature, or I just screwed up. In any case, most photos were badly over-exposed. And worse, at one of the absolute high points, a trip out into a fjord in a small open boat with an Inuit guide tracking a humpback whale, my Tamron zoom lens fell apart and I was left with a 35mm lens. As far as I recall I just gave and enjoyed the show. But I took a few shots.

I dug out the photos again yesterday, and actually in the age of Instagram they’ve got a certain something about them. Well some of them, at least. In fact there’s a hint of “honour thy mistake as a hidden intention” in some, in retrospect.

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Greenland is unfinished business to me. It will probably remain so. Going back seems increasingly unlikely.

 

 

 

Terra Borealis, by Marco Paoluzzo

a book review

in Book Reviews , Thursday, July 21, 2011

A couple of years back, I reviewed Marco Paoluzzo’s book about the Faroe Islands, Føroyar. This followed on from his other “Arctic series” books, Iceland and North/Nord. Finally, he has put together his magnum opus, Terra Borealis, with photography from Iceland, Greenland, the Faroes, Svalbard and Norway.

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Hvitserkur, Iceland: the cover photo of Terra Borealis. Photo © Marco Paoluzzo.

Terra Borealis has been out for about 6 months (and Marco was kind enough to send me a PDF proof over a year ago), so I’ve been a bit slow to write about it. Meanwhile it has been getting good reviews in various publications, and is currently being promoted on the site of the well recommended photo book retailer, Beyond Words. So this is old news.

Marco Paoluzzo is far from the typical landscape photographer - in fact I doubt he’d describe himself as that at all - even if landscapes figure large in his work. He has much more of a reportage view of the world, and is equally fascinated by the human presence in the landscape, or indeed shaping the landscape, as the place itself. He doesn’t photograph people very much, at least not in the Arctic, but he doesn’t shy away from the worst excesses of environmental damage, for example at Barentsburg, Svalbard. In this he reminds me a little of Edward Burtynsky, but less formal. He also shows a fascination with how man has managed to survive and prosper even in these harsh climates, not only in the more obvious Inuit communities, but also severe concrete constructions like those found in Kirkenes.

However, landscape, or perhaps better, “place”, figures very strongly. Since he uses only black and white, and generally avoids the heavy contrast, long exposure style of others such as Josef Hoflehner, this is almost a “decisive moment” approach. It’s certainly very individual, and may not appeal to the general landscape audience. It’s also in stark contrast (ha!) to the highly colorful Iceland “standard” style piled high in Keflavik airport - or indeed found all over Flickr. And it’s all the more refreshing for that.  Terra Borealis is a book that requires, and rewards, a certain degree of engagement and time.

Personally it has a style which resonates with me, even if I’m no black & white photographer. There are strong undercurrents of wonder mixed with ironic humour, and more than a degree of quiet romanticism. Paoluzzo’s photography doesn’t grab you by the throat, it just invites you to contemplate for a while.

My personal favourite is from the back of the dustjacket. It’s a shot taken from a ship cruising up the west coast of Svalbard, and typically, Marco has framed the wild, empty landscape using the ship’s structure, and as you look, you become aware of the coffee cup tucked away in a corner, and just become part of the scene.

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Svalbard, observed. Photo © Marco Paoluzzo.

I don’t know where he can go from here with his Arctic series. Russia maybe ? But as you can see from his web site, he has plenty more tales to tell.

If you’ve got a bit of the Arctic in your soul, you need this book.