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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.


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.


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.



Summer in the Arctic

not so grim up north

in Olympus E-System , Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It isn’t trivial, slimming down a selection of 16 photos from 6000 candidates… Not that all 6000 are good, but probably 1000 or so are in the same ballpark as the 16 I chose (not that I’m claiming they’re anything special).

Anyway, hot(-ish) on the heals of my Pyramiden & panorama galleries, here’s another more general set from the wonderful Arctic world of Svalbard.

Svalbard selection

And for those who like to know these things, they were all taken with an Olympus E-3, using Zuiko Digital 12-60SWD, 50-200SWD and 7-14mm lenses.


Any colour you like

it’s all subjective

in Hasselblad XPan , Thursday, July 08, 2010

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently wondering about what type of film to take to Svalbard next month. The arguments about the subjective qualities of different types rage across the internet (yes, still), with no end of “expert”, dogmatic opinions (as well as the odd voice of reason).

I won’t go into the arguments here, but I did remember an interesting experience from a few years back.

During a photographic trip around Iceland in March 2008 with Daniel Bergmann, we were driving towards the town of Vik while a storm front was approaching from the south, making a very dramatic contrast between thick, dense cloud reflect dark sand and sea, and snow covered dunes.

We stopped to take a few photos. I was using my XPan loaded with Fuji Velvia 100F, Daniel was using his Canon EOS 1Ds Mk whatever.

When I got the processed film, it looked like this:


uncorrected scan

Not at ALL what I remembered!  No, I remember a leaden gray sky and pure white snow, so after some fairly drastic Photoshoppery (the slide has very low contrast, which should have given me a clue) I ended up with this:


the Truth ... is out there ?

Daniel meanwhile worked on his RAW file, without any idea or sight of what I had done, and some later mailed me this (cropped by me from his 35mm FF format):


Daniel Bergmann’s view (© Daniel Bergmann)

Interestingly, he’s ended up with much more blue, pretty much as the Velvia 100F slide suggested, and a lot lower contrast: I think he’s believed the camera, as opposed to me trying to recreate whatever I could remember of my impression.

The point of all this is this: with such a range of subjectivity, which can give results which are neither “right” nor “wrong” (even removing a colour cast is subjective), what characteristics of film can really be so important ? In the digital age, the main issue surely is to capture a neutral image which will give as much latitude as possible for subjective interpretation.

Which pretty much rules out Velvia 50, the great favourite of landscape photographers since Noah launched the Ark…



Føroyar by Marco Paoluzzo

The Faroe Islands in glorious monochrome

in Book Reviews , Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I’ve been a fan of Marco Paoluzzo’s photography since I discovered his “Iceland” book a few years ago. I was very impressed by his uncompromising monochrome approach to exploring the icelandic landscape, and his skill in conveying the feel not just of the landscape, but also the people who inhabit it and contribute to shaping it. I found his style very different both from anglophile, Velvia school as well as the more austere and formal Germanic style. As demonstrated through his wide range of works, and especially the wonderfully melancholic “America Blues”, It is perhaps more accurate to describe Marco Paoluzzo as a travel photographer than “just” a landscapist, and this shows through in the way he has of conveying a sense of place rather than abstracting from the landscape.“Iceland” was followed up a few years later by “North”, which in fact focussed mainly on Iceland itself, but offered a fleeting glimpse of another old North Atlantic Viking dominion, the Faroe Islands.  Now, with his new book “Føroyar”, Paoluzzo gives center stage to these islands.


Føroyar actually reprises most of the Faroes section of “North”, within a collection of 72 photographs of windswept, often fogbound scenes of a land at the edge of the world. Although Paoluzzo favours dark, one could almost say dismal, tones in his landscapes, nevertheless they radiate light, sometimes soft, sometimes brighter, always hinting at something slightly lost, slightly mysterious. The landscape work tends perhaps less towards the abstract than in “North” and “Iceland”, but nevertheless there are some wonderful studies of form and movement. To my mind this book seems to be the work of someone exploring his inner landscape as much as the external world, blending in a touch of a reportage perspective.

It comes as a shock when the sequence of desolate cliffs and mountains descending sharply into the sea is broken up by an overhead shot of a road - a real road, with cars, snaking along a narrow strip between steep slope or sea. Other photographs remind that this is actually an inhabited landscape, sometimes obviously, sometimes more discretely. One wonderful shot shows the bows a ridiculously large cruise liner barely distinguishable just off a fogbound port. Such a ship must be completely out of place in these settings, but finally the fog reclaims it and it just becomes another angular bulk looming up out of nowhere.

But finally, these departures from the “classic landscape” repertoire do not detract at all from the collection. They give it an extra dimension and that sense of place which is often lacking in more formal works.

You can order the book (with text in English, German and French) directly from Marco Paoluzzo. A French edition has also been published, and can be ordered from Amazon.

You can also see a wide selection of Marco’s photography on Flickr.



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