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Matinee: Louie Palu on the Challenges of Photographing in the Arctic Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

7 March 2020

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 243rd in our series of Saturday matinees today: Louie Palu: The Challenges of Photographing in the Arctic.

In this 4:26 video from The Globe and Mail, Canadian documentary photographer Louie Palu reveals what it's like to shoot in the harsh conditions of the Arctic.

He spent over five years making 24 trips there to document the Canadian military training in the Arctic. Nature is completely in control there, he points out at the beginning.

November through February, for example, the sun never rises. So you not only have to worry about lighting conditions, polar bears and the cold but you have to deal with the psychological effects. Which is "very, very tough," he says.

It's also a technical challenge. We see him elaborately suit up (time-lapse to the rescue) and pack his gear. He talks about the danger of breathing on your camera as you compose a shot, the cold air freezing your shutter, the necessity of missing a shot to warm your camera so you can eventually fire the shutter.

He has a portfolio of photographs in his mind that never happened because the shutter was frozen, he confides.

But that was the least of his problems. The temperature of the air itself can kill you.

Through his images he shares the experience of being in the snow caves, on the submarine and completing the daily tasks required to survive in the Arctic.

The project he talks about in the video became the multimedia feature The Frozen Front Line.

On his PhotoShelter page, Palu reveals what drives him:

I grew up hearing stories of trauma and poverty in my family and was taught to always be in touch with your roots. This became the basis of all my choices of subject matter as a documentary photographer. I believe that what I do is not a career, but a way of life and belief system. Consequently, I feel as though my role in the world as a photographer is to monitor power and document social political issues relating to human rights, poverty and conflict. I try to use the most simple of photographic approaches and equipment free of effects and gimmicks. I believe in ethically produced, straight forward, raw, unflinching images.

The recipient of a long list of awards, his work has been collected by the Harry Ransom Center, National Gallery of Art, Library and Archives of Canada, Center of Creative Photography, Portland Art Museum, George Eastman House, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, National Gallery of Canada and Museum of Fine Arts Boston, among others.


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