Traditional Life and Lady Gaga Collide in Modern Greenland
Greenland is the world’s largest island, blanketed beneath 656,000 square miles of ice. Just 56,000 people live there, which is about as half as many people as you’ll find in Fargo, North Dakota. Almost 90 percent of them are Inuit, the indigenous people who settled there centuries ago and are seeing their way of life transformed by modern culture and climate change.
It is fitting, then, that photographer Sebastien Tixier named his breathtaking series Allanngorpoq, the Inuit word for transformation. The 60 photographs offer a sweeping look at how European and American influences are shaping seven communities even as a warming planet remakes the landscape. “The country is really at a crossing of paths,” Tixier says. “Its people have begun to embrace Western lifestyles and modes of consumption.”
The French photographer’s lifelong fascination with Greenland got him thinking about visiting in 2011. He spent 18 months doing research, learning the indigenous language, and contacting locals through social media and the Internet.
In March 2013, he finally flew to Greenland. Other photographers tend to focus on the country’s most remote corners, but Tixier saw as much of the country as he could in the month he had. He skipped the capital, Nuuk, and stayed in Kangerlussuaq, a tiny town with just 512 people and the country’s largest airport. From there he visited Ilulissat, a city of about 4,000 people roughly 220 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Despite the isolated location and traditional history, the city is fully infused with modern culture. His cab driver listened to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” as he drove past supermarkets, Chinese restaurants, and hair salons. “It was quite impressive to witness the collision of both Inuit and Western cultures,” Tixier says.
The contrast was greater further north. In Qaanaaq, one of the world’s northernmost communities, Tixier met hunters going to sea in traditional kayaks and modern boats, wearing polar bear hides and synthetic fabric. They invited him to join the three-day hunt, during which Tixier made many of the photos in Allanngorpoq. Before going off in search of seals, the men checked their phones for weather updates, then traveled on dog sleds for seven hours over 25 miles of sea ice to reach their destination.
It was brutally cold, often dipping well below zero. Aside from not breathing on the viewfinder, Tixier wrapped the knobs on his medium format Mamiya RZ with tape, making them big enough to grasp while wearing thick gloves. He also made a camera coozie out of insulating material and kept the battery in his vest, connecting it to his camera with an electric cable that snaked down his sleeve. “I had to plug [the cables] together before taking pictures, but at least the battery would not drain out in minutes,” he says.
Spending so much time with the hunters only deepened his love of Greenland and its people. His images are simultaneously expansive and intimate, revealing a remote land of tight communities adapting to a changing world.