Still Life: Photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva Captures the Subtle Vitality of Russia’s Far East

National Geographic photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva was born in Tiksi, a remote Siberian outpost on the Laptev Sea, hundreds of miles from the nearest city. Evgenia is passionate about documenting her Arctic homeland—its harsh landscapes and the hearty people who inhabit them—and she shares that passion with National Geographic travelers on an expedition cruise along Russia’s far eastern shores. We sat down with Evgenia to find out how she brings this quiet and remote region to life through photography.

How would you characterize the landscapes and people of the Russian High Arctic?

Arctic beauty is subtle. It takes some time and inner stillness to appreciate it. Let your eyes rest from the clutter of our saturated world and you’ll enjoy subtle tones and shades of colors, the emptiness, and the ever-stretching horizon. It is truly special. In the local indigenous communities, there is a strong sense of comradery and people rely on each other to survive in this harsh climate.

What, for you, are some of the highlights of National Geographic’s expeditions to Russia’s Far East?

I am particularly interested in the human stories. Visiting local villages in Chukotka is definitely a highlight. During the trip, we will have an opportunity to see how indigenous Chukchi and Yupik people live now, as well as the historic sites that they occupied centuries ago.

How do you hope the experience of visiting Russia's Far East will change those who do so?

I hope that travelers will use the rare opportunity to appreciate and learn about the local culture of this region. On a personal level, I believe that visiting the Arctic changes every single person. I’m not sure what it is exactly—perhaps it’s the light and the feel of the Arctic, like nowhere else, that stays with you forever.

What keeps you returning to your homeland for photo projects?

I grew up in the Arctic and I miss its empty space and quietness. Also, there are so many interesting stories to tell in my homeland. It is a treasure trove for a storyteller.

Tell us about one of your favorite National Geographic assignments in the region.

My first assignment for National Geographic magazine was a story about “mammoth hunters”—native people of coastal Yakutia who excavate mammoth tusks from the permafrost. I spent two months following the hunters. This assignment sparked my interest in the Arctic islands, where the Earth’s last wooly mammoths lived, and now I am really looking forward to visiting Wrangel Island on board the National Geographic Orion.

How would you encourage travelers to approach photography during this trip?

I would suggest thinking of this trip as a story, where photographs are not only stand-alone images, but are part of a sequence.