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Internship of a Lifetime

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Paul Nangmalik pulls his rowboat through an ocean of ice toward open water to go seal hunting. “Looking back, it's an experience that really put this whole [Inuit] lifestyle in perspective. These hunters risk their lives every time they go out. If it's not the thin ice, it could be polar bear attacks or a snowmobile breaking down. It’s incredible to think about what they go through to catch one seal for themselves and their family to eat. I can't even imagine how it must have been living like they did only 50-60 years ago without real houses, electricity and so on,” Magnus wrote.

Magnus Holm, from Denmark, stands six feet three inches tall. He has a mound of floppy blonde hair and a grin that can disarm the devil. It’s the latter that enables him to mask his size and draw his subjects in to capture memorable moments for his camera.

I first saw his photography when I was judging the 2013 College Photographer of the Year (CPOY) contest at the University of Missouri. His photographic style and unique stories were hard to miss, raising his work above his contemporaries. Magnus’s portfolio placed first. National Geographic magazine sponsors the contest and the winner receives an internship at the magazine—our only still photography internship.

After Magnus spent a few weeks in the office taking in other photographers’ shows, observing how we operate, and researching ideas, we decided on Igloolik, a small Inuit hamlet 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Nunavut, Canada. His mission was to document how the Inuit are trying to hold on to their culture and traditions while the modern world relentlessly presses in from all sides.

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The cemetery overlooks Igloolik, a small, isolated Inuit hamlet of 2,000 people located on an Island in Canada’s Nunavut territory. It’s an Inuit tradition to bury their dead on the highest point, so that their spirits can keep an eye on the land. In the late 1800s, Catholic and Anglican missionaries spread Christianity throughout the Arctic.

Magnus stepped off the plane 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle knowing no one, his only connection a kind voice from a couch surfing website who agreed to let him rent her sofa—if he’d watch her dog while she was away. He didn’t realize that he’d only have three hours of daylight to work with each day! He ended up barfing his brains out after eating raw walrus meat. And he fell through the sea ice and endured a bone-chilling 25-minute snowmobile ride back to town. But he also made great friends, such as Paul Nangmalik, 40, who lives and breathes to be out on the ice. He took Magnus seal hunting.

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Ann Kayotak strolls down Igloolik’s main street with her two-year-old son on her way home from the only store in town. With the ocean frozen over 9 months of the year all supplies are flown in by airplane. Fresh produce doesn’t come cheap—a red pepper cost $14. Once a year a container ship delivers larger goods, such as boats and snowmobiles.

“I really have had a great learning experience both photographically and on a personal level,” Magnus wrote from the field. “It has been interesting trying to be away from everything and everyone you know for so long, being forced to be a part of a whole new community and culture. Every time I photograph, I hear people telling me about things that have happened; or things they have done; or plans they have; and I just see the photos in my head. It really is about being there, being patient, and being around as much as possible so they are completely comfortable in your company. The experiences and things I’ve learned here are definitely something I can use so much of in future projects.”

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Polar bears are constant threat to the community, especially in the fall before the ocean freezes over—it’s difficult for bears to hunt and they come to town looking for food. This stray polar bear had to be put down. This is one of the reasons why the hunters don’t have any tags to hunt them for the next three years. After they killed this one, three men butchered the bear in less than 10 minutes. The meat was given out to the community and the Canadian government confiscated the skin. Nothing of the bear goes to waste.
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Kids go trick-or-treating on Halloween.
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The town of Igloolik holds dances for the younger generation on Friday or Saturday nights in the community hall. Sometimes there is no age limit, but other times it’s 13 years of age. Alcohol is strictly forbidden. Tired of the younger kids, Simon Angutiqjuang, left, and Tanner Nutarariaq hang out in the lobby.
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Paul Josh Kunuk, 21, tries on his father’s oversized suit as he gets ready for his high school graduation ceremony. Only 25 percent of the children graduate. There aren’t that many jobs in town, especially those that require an education.
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Paul Nangmalik, 40, feels trapped inside his home and he is constantly checking on the extent of the sea ice and if anyone is going out hunting. Nangmalik loves to hunt and he’ll be out on the ice any chance he gets. He is teaching his son, Paul Jr., to hunt to keep him out of trouble.
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Hunting is a social event. Paul Nangmalik, right, Solomon Mikki, and Peter Awa hunt seals on the west point of Igloolik. “When I asked who gets to shoot the seal first when there is more than one hunter they looked at me like I was an idiot—they just shoot and share,” said Magnus. They are always helping each other out.
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In five days of hunting they only caught two seals. Dean Ittuksardjuat, left, and Paul Nangmalik share a freshly-killed seal. The best part of the hunt is eating the meat while it’s still warm. They eat everything—including the tongue, but their favorites are the brain and eyeballs.
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When they are done butchering the seal there is nothing left—the meat is consumed, the skin is used for clothing and the bones for tools.
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Magnus Holm’s final show to the magazine editors (in order from top left to bottom right).

Magnus might say he was lucky to have me as a mentor, but the truth is I was lucky to be able to work with him. His enthusiasm, youthful vision, and willingness to learn lifted my spirits and gave me fresh eyes to see things in a different light.

Magnus Holm will be attending the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in Bangladesh where he’ll study photography until January. He plans to graduate from the Danish School of Journalism in the spring of 2015. He is currently seeking funding to go back to Igloolik in the spring of 2015.

Follow Magnus Holm on Instagram.

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