“When I was a child, the ice was gone in June and July, now it is gone in April and May.”
UUMMANNAQThe Heart of a Seal
Three Categories Finalist at World Report Award & Finalist at BFF Grant and VGH FotopreisExhibited at PHOTOKINA, Triennale Hamburg, Zingst PhotofestivalFestival della Fotografica Etica, Galerie für Fotografie Hannover
Once I saw the first glimpses of the mountain that Uummannaq, Greenland, an island town off the country’s western coast, centers around, I was instantly drawn to the beauty and rawness of this remote place. The Arctic island has in the past 50 years quickly developed itself and is going from a traditional community of fishermen and hunters to a modern society. I wanted to understand and document how life looks and feels like in a community with such a harsh climate and long traditions.
In the autumn 2017, I began my photographic exploration and continued in February 2018, where I also witnessed the warmest winter on record in the Arctic. Unfortunately, the effects from global warming on this coastal town were apparent, with instances like the sea ice melting too early.
For countless generations, the Inuit who reside here have relied on their natural surroundings to survive. The purpose of this project is to show how the Inuit culture intersects with the town’s present day conditions and to pose the question of how long the area’s traditions will remain in contrast with its changing circumstances.
After a local hunter shoots a seal, he fixates it with a hook and allows it to bleed out into the ocean. Seal hunting is an endangered tradition because seal fur is no longer popular within the country or for exportation.
Above: Individuals from the children’s home in a more modern version of traditional clothing sit in front of a portrait of Knud Rasmussen (painting left) and his travel companions (painting mid and right). Knud Rasmussen was a famous adventurer and is a national hero of Greenland. Children from all over Greenland come to the northernmost children’s home in the world. Nearly half of the Greenlandic population has been exposed to violence, the highest amount against children and teens.
Below: Martin plays on his phone. He is one of the young individuals of the children’s home in Uummannaq. Children from all over Greenland come to the northernmost children’s home in the world. Many of those who live in the facility come as a direct result of alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and the country having the highest rate of suicide in the world.
“People have become more dependent on money than before. Everything cost money, it was not like that before.”
“The most important change, is that the climate has become more instable now and the wind is more unpredictable and stronger.”
Below left: The Greenlandic priest of the Lutheran Church of Greenland in Uummannaq walks toward his chapel on the First Advent. He is one of the only confidants who the town’s population can rely on. Greenland now has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world while witnessing a lot of problems due to excessive alcohol abuse.
The arctic continuous to melt with each passing minute through global warming. The average temperature in the arctic has increased about almost 4 degrees since the beginning of the 20th century.
“Our ancestors were strong people, because they worked together to solve problems and helped each other. People became individualists and stopped helping others.”
Uummannaq means a heart-shaped mountain. In this case, it‘s not a human heart the Inuit talk about—it‘s the heart of a seal. At the foot of this mountain, 590 km² north of the Polar Circle in western Greenland, lies a town with the same name: Uummannaq. A remote island inhabited by 1325 individuals, the village is connected only by ships and a helicopter to the outside world.
Below: The head of a narwhal served in a bucket after a baptism in a home Uummannaq. The skin of the head and the tail of the narwhal are a delicacy in Greenland and people buy them directly from the fisherman who turn for a short period of time into narwhal hunters during narwhal season in late autumn. A man drinks during a kaffemik in a house after a baptism of a child. All kinds of seafood, cakes and coffee are served during a kaffemik in a house in Uummannaq after a baptism. This tradition helps to strengthen the community spirit of the town. There is almost every day an opportunity for a kaffemik.
“Narwhal hunting has changed a lot, because they decreased the quotas. That’s why I think young people don’t want to become hunters.”
Below: A fisherman catches halibut on the sea ice in temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius in February, as seagulls await the fish leftovers. Warmer currents and sea temperature brought more fish to Uummannaq, but bigger boats which are used in summer, brought fishing quotas to the town because of overfishing. Long fishing lines with 200 baited hooks attached at the end, are used by the professional fishermen. These lines reach 500 meters to touch the ocean ground, where the halibut reside.
“There is already something wrong in the system. The first law in the parliament is written in Danish. Having a white man tell us exactly what to do is not a good idea.”
Normally in late spring or early winter, the temperature of the sea around Uummannaq drops below zero and the ice slowly starts to freeze. This connects Uummannaq to the surrounding settlements and the mainland, which is reachable by snow scooter or dog sled. In 2018, the sea around Uummannaq was frozen only in mid-February, alarmingly late compared to the years before. In March 2018, the arctic was hit by the warmest temperatures ever recorded during that time of the year. Since the sea ice almost melted in the first week of March, the police tried to close the access to it as it became unsafe to go inside.
When the ice gets thicker around Uummannaq, it is difficult for the fisherman to navigate. Ice is everything: Life in Uummannaq is not measured in normal seasons but in ice-free and ice season, as it affects travelling and fishing on the island.
“A lot of hunters prefer the motorsledge [over dogsledding], because the winters are too short, the snowmobiles are faster to transport the catch.”
Chained to the ground, two Greenlandic dogs live outside through the harshest conditions, waiting all year for the sledding season. The dog sledding tradition in Greenland is threatened: With modern conveniences in hunting and transportation, like snowmobiles and short winters through global warming, many people have decided to use the dogs less and less, diminishing their purpose in life.
The Heart of a Seal - Limited Prints available - © 2019 Lukas KreibigQuotations from “Life on thin ice: Insights from Uummannaq, Greenland for connecting climate science with Arctic communities“ made by Juan Baztan, Mateo Cordier, Jean-Michel Huctin, Zhiwei Zhu, Jean-Paul Vanderlinden
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