RAGNAR AXELSSON, Arctic Photographer.
For more than 40 years, Ragnar Axelsson, (b. 1958), has been photographing the people, wildlife and landscapes of the most remote regions of the Arctic, including Iceland, Siberia, and Greenland.
In stark black-and-white images, he captures the elemental, human experience of nature at the edge of the liveable world and shines a light on the extraordinary relationships between the people of the Arctic and their extreme environment – relationships now being altered in profound and complex ways by the unprecedented changes in climate.
LISTEN TO HIS STORY:
What made you start?
It all started on the farm when I was a kid. Back then, I was taking pictures of the farmers. I was ten years old, crossing glacial rivers alone, riding horses and measuring the river's depths because I sensed something was wrong. The glaciers were getting thinner and thinner, so I kept on photographing, and 35 years later, I think I did something that mattered.
35 years is a long time. Where does your persistence come from?
None of my friends truly believed in what I did. They were saying, “You're crazy. This is stupid. It's just snow.” It made me so stubborn because I grew up playing football, and I hated to lose the game. You fight till the end. Dick Rowe once said to the Beatles: “Guitar groups are on their way out.“, and see what they have become.
In my early days, many publishers I spoke to had no interest in making books about the Arctic. They could not see the importance and issues that would come up. That attitude has totally changed by now. I'm not the Beatles, nothing close to that, but this rejection was definitely something that kept me going.
“Telling stories through film and photography makes people stop and think.”
What role does money play in all this?
I never thought about getting rich. I just followed what I believed was the right thing to do.
How would you describe the importance of art these days?
I do care for our planet, which is something everybody should do, actually. Telling stories through film and photography makes people stop and think.
“It's hard to photograph climate change. When you're out there, everything is just white.”
How do you feel about your reputation and other people's opinions?
I never talked about myself being an artist because I grew up, being insulted that photography is not an art form. So I decided a long time ago not to care about other people's opinions. If I had, I would have given up a long time ago.
“Sometimes I just want to be like a fly on the wall - nobody should know who I am.”
How do you see yourself?
I always feel I haven’t done enough, actually. I always have to run faster and do better. That is my drive. During my exhibitions, I'm usually hiding in a corner, nobody knows who I am because it is not about me, it is about the things that I feel that matter. Before my work got some recognition, nobody knew what I was doing. I didn't say a word about what I had been working on for years, actually.
If you have a dream, don't let anybody tell you, “You're doing something wrong”. Follow your heart. I was in such a huge fight with many people and myself, but I never gave up. I have won many awards, and it has always been a good feeling, but I also feel a bit shy about it. Sometimes I just want to be like a fly on the wall.
Your work focuses on climate change. What did you notice?
It's hard to photograph climate change. When you're on the ice, you can't tell a difference because it's all white. but the weather in the Arctic region is changing a lot. We might have much more rain in the summer. It's getting warmer. I was in Greenland 20 years ago, when the fjords were completely frozen. Back then, the Arctic communities had many hunters. Now they are declining and getting fewer and fewer. Old traditions are fading away, and smaller communities are moving to bigger settlements. They feel their time is nearly over.
“I go for a swim in the ocean every day, no matter how cold it is. You get addicted to it.”
What is your strongest character trait?
I am really proud of my stubbornness. I never gave up, even when the wind was blowing against me.
Greenland was always super challenging for me. The cold is quite torturing, actually. Sometimes I promise myself to never go back, but Greenland is like a magnet, so hard to resist.
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ABOUT THIS PROJECT
How we spend our days is how we spend our life. Therefore, creating an everyday life we truly care about is of fundamental importance. May these stories help you to get a different perspective on life and spark inspiration to follow the things you believe in.
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