By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences
“I am currently working in a faraway land with very limited Internet access.” This was the automatic reply when I wrote photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva this week.
She was far away indeed, in a village in Chukotka, after living off the grid for weeks in a hut overlooking a noisy, crowded walrus rookery (below). Why was she doing this? In her followup (non-automatic) reply, she wrote: “I want to capture the land that I love the most before it changes in a way that I won’t be able to recognize any more.” (Above, abandoned buildings in the emptying Russian Arctic port of Dikson.)
Evgenia grew up in Tiksi, a small town in the Russian Arctic, where she says she ran about the tundra and watched the northern lights as she walked to school. She has documented her homeland throughout her career, most recently as a National Geographic Fellow. “It always takes some time to get used to the pace and atmosphere of the isolated places I photograph,” she writes me. “With time my mind changes, or rather I become myself again, and my eyes start to notice subtle details in nature and people. As a photographer I treasure these details the most."
Among the details she has captured: At left, a lighthouse model that an Arctic meteorologist is building from matches, atop a Soviet reference book called The Dynamics of Sea Ice. At right, the radio at the old weather station, which transmitted daily temperatures, wind speeds, and precipitation to the closest city, Arkhangelsk, nearly 500 miles away.
These details are from The Weatherman, a chapter of Evgenia’s Russian Arctic series that I published in the New Yorker. Evgenia learned a lot from her visits. From the home of another meteorologist and lighthouse keeper in Kanin Nos, she took the dreamy still life shown below—pale apples wrapped one by one in newspaper, “as if they were made of crystal,” to prevent them from freezing. It hints at a harsh, unforgiving reality: Food supplies are delivered once a year by ship in the summer.
"But meteorologists are creative cooks. I am amazed how they can pull off a variety of tasty dishes from the exact same ingredients. It’s part of the art of Arctic living,” she tells me. In her story in the upcoming National Geographic magazine, Evgenia writes: “Each person who is here is here for a reason.” (Subscribers can read it here.)
Upon entering this quiet room in the Arctic, Evgenia imagined the music playing and the stars sparkling in unision. “The long darkness of the polar night is a surreal thing,” she tells me. “These dark months feel like one long dream.”
And that’s exactly what it looks like to me.
In my decade-long work with Evgenia, her vision exemplifies the advice that I would give to any storyteller—find stories that are at once deeply personal and utterly unique. While the world sorts itself with like-minded people moving closer together, and understanding others less and less, Evgenia puts herself in isolated places—and makes us realize the richness of this planet through these faraway lands.
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Today in a minute
R.I.P. Bruno Barbey: The legendary photographer, who rose to become head of the Magnum photo agency, died on Monday. He was 79. Barbey (above) came to prominence in the 1960s and made distinctive images all over the world, including while the push for democracy was growing in then-Communist Poland. “Poland was the page in history that was being written and it was the memory of an ancestral society on the verge of disappearing,” said the French-Swiss photographer. One of his images from Poland made the cover of National Geographic in April 1982.
Running out of time: For the past year, Jeffrey Rease has been racing to photograph many of the remaining World War II veterans still alive. For the project Portraits of Honor, Rease has captured images of 110 World War II veterans, ages 93 to 104. He wants to do hundreds more, although he understands the limits of portraiture of older people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Families, Rease tells the Washington Post, often are surprised at how much the veterans tell him. In June, National Geographic published a similar project aimed at hearing the last voices of World War II. Subscribers can see and read it here.
Saving the seas (and wildlife): A National Geographic Society study found that banning fishing over five percent of an ocean’s surface could boost global fish catches 20 percent in the future. That’s one rationale for the decision today by Britain and an overseas territory to establish a marine sanctuary over 265,347 square miles of the South Atlantic. The area, about three times the size of the U.K., surrounds the sparsely populated Tristan da Cunha island chain—and is home to whales, sharks, seals, penguins, and albatross. The “no take” zone—where fishing, mining, and other extractive activities are banned—will be the biggest in the Atlantic and fourth biggest in the world, Nat Geo’s Sarah Gibbens reports. “It is testament to the vision of the Tristan da Cunha community that one of the world’s smallest communities can make the single biggest contribution to global marine conservation this year,” said author and photographer Enric Sala, a Nat Geo Explorer-in-Residence.
An end to free photo storage: Google Photos announced Wednesday that its unlimited free photo storage will end in June, and accounts uploading more than 15 gigabytes of images will have to pay. The company previously has allowed free storage of images that were uploaded and subjected to Google’s compression. The change “allows us to keep pace with the growing demand for storage,” PetaPixel quotes Shimrit Ben-Yair, vice president of Google Photos, as saying. Google account storage is shared across Drive, Gmail, and Photos.
Your Instagram photo of the day
Learning to help others: 2020 is the year of nurses and midwives. Here, 48 students attend a lecture during a midwifery program in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Most of the young women who have chosen the profession want to help reduce maternal and child mortality. Every year, thousands of mothers and children die in pregnancy or during childbirth in Bangladesh. With the help of a newly trained midwife, the chance of survival increases dramatically. According to the World Health Organization, the planet needs nine million more nurses and midwives if it is to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.
Subscriber exclusive: Why giving birth in the United States is surprisingly deadly
The big takeaway
From snares to sculpture: These metal traps were used to illegally capture and often kill animals in Uganda. Now they are being turned into art. A nonprofit is behind the effort to take this traps out of commission—and to employ local people to create intricate sculptures of African wildlife, Jani Hall and Esther Ruth Mbabazi report. Above, artisan Angeyo Mustafa sifts through wire snares recovered in Murchison Falls National Park. Below left, a giraffe sculpture and, right, other designs.
In a few words
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On Mondays, Debra Adams Simmons covers the latest in history. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, George Stone on travel, and Rachael Bale on animal and wildlife news.
The last glimpse
Before tourism: Mexico’s Pacific port of Acapulco once was a key transit point to and from Spain’s possessions in the Far East, according to the cutline in this 1913 National Geographic feature. Our senior photo archivist, Sara Manco, says the image accompanied a broad look at countries affected by the building of the Panama Canal. In the distance, photographer George R. King’s image shows a fort that had been built by the Spanish. In the second half of the 20th century, Acapulco became a jet set vacation hot spot, before being eclipsed by newer, shinier resorts—and turning into more recently a battleground between drug gangs. This photograph is among our vast archival image collection.