Indian photographer Subhankar Banerjee uses photography to communicate about issues that harm our planet. Five years ago, Banerjee spent two years in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, photographing this remote region in northeastern Alaska in all four seasons (see images here). His work there coincided with the intent of oil companies and the current U.S. administration to open up the oil and gas reserves on the coastal plain to drill for oil. During his work he stayed in interior and coastal villages with both Gwich’in Athabascan and Inupiat communities, learning about their intimate relationships to the northern environment and the birds and animals that live there. You can read an interview with Subhankar Banerjee here.
My arctic study started with a documentary impulse. The Arctic Refuge had not been visually documented in a comprehensive manner, so I decided to study and document the cycle of seasons of this land and its inhabitants, much the same way as Henry David Thoreau studied the cycle of seasons at Walden Pond with total immersion and contemplation. At the end of my first year in the
arctic I felt I had documented most of the important ecological things. In the second year my approach changed to where I was in no rush to photograph anything in particular. Instead, I immersed myself in the land and wanted to portray the soul of this place. In essence, my arctic study is both documentary, because it documents the important ecological and cultural aspects of the refuge, and at the same time it is art, because it is a meditative study of the fragility and vulnerability of a remote and harsh landscape.
In late 2000, when I first started to plan my journey to the Arctic, I used to think of the land as untouched by man, a so-called Last Frontier. After six years of intense engagement with the land, its peoples, and its issues, I see the Arctic not as a Last Frontier but as the most connected land on the planet. This connection is both celebratory—millions of birds from every land on the planet migrate to the Arctic each year for nesting and rearing their young, a planetary celebration of epic scale—and tragic, as resource wars (oil, coal, mineral), global warming, and toxic migrations have in turn connected the Arctic to the lives of people in faraway lands in a rather tragic manner too. – Subhankar Banerjee