The waters of Deer Bay off Elef Ringnes Island, high in the Canadian Arctic are not a natural place for humans. For much of the year they are frozen solid. And yet this is where I lived and worked, April this year.
I was the communications manager for the Catlin Arctic Survey, a multi-year scientific research programme investigating what’s going on with the Arctic Ocean and how it affects people around the world.
We slept in unheated tents, with temperatures as low as -48C (not accounting for wind chill which could pull the felt temperature close to -60C). We worked every day, no weekends off, stopping just for meals. Our camp was built on just 1.7 metres of sea ice, with 250 metres of ocean beneath. We had a camp mascot, Tuk, an Inuit camp dog, who doubled as a polar bear deterrent. It may seem like the worst job in the world, fraught with hardship and extremes, but the camaraderie of the rest of the team and the raw beauty of the landscape made the expedition a real joy.
The research was unique. No one else was out in the cold doing science at this time of year. Most scientists wait until the summer starts to break up the ice and they can travel around in the relative comfort of an icebreaker. But no one knows what happens as winter turns into spring and life slowly returns to these frozen waters.
The science team were looking at two issues: ocean acidification and ocean currents. The Arctic Ocean acts as an early warning system for the rest of the planet. Carbon Dioxide is absorbed faster in cold water, and so we can start to tell how increased acidification may affect sea life up in the Arctic, before similar conditions start to appear in other ocean areas.
The researchers involved will probably kill me for simplifying how ocean currents work. But basically it all works because of the different densities of fresh/salty and hot/cold water rising and falling. A lot of this happens in the Arctic making it a bit like the heart for the planet’s oceans, pumping the water round. If more sea ice melt, this could essentially mess up this pump function, potentially with drastic consequences. Some models suggest that the average temperature in north western Europe could drop by as much as 5C in the fifteen years after the currents stopped.
The bulk of my work was focused on updating a blog with videos, photos, and articles and drafting press pieces for the scientists, as well as filming for a BBC documentary. All good and all very digital. It was hard to be Lomo, when I wanted to allow an online audience around the world to be able to follow us in real time. The nearest lab to get my films developed would have involved chartering a Twin Otter light aircraft to come and pick me up from a hand leveled snow runway to take me 350 miles to Resolute Bay and then a series of flights via increasingly large settlements to Ottawa. Not really an option, especially if the weather closed in.
Digital is immediate. It’s honest. It’s uploadable. Analogue is textured. It’s atmospheric. It’s emotive. I really enjoyed having both with me for all the reasons above and have used a combination on all of my most recent expeditions. It is a bit of a faff to have multiple cameras but I think well worth it. The Lomo Chrome film cross-processed really captured the light and the blues of the sky and snow. The Redscale XR shot at 32ASA brought a wonderful faded sepia blue tone to the images. I had to wait weeks until I was back in London to have the photos developed by the wonderful folk at the East London Lomo Lab. But as soon as I had those pictures in my hand, I was straight back on the ice, reliving the good times and the hard times: shots of sun skimming the horizon at midnight and never setting, the miniature dunes of blown snow, the people, the colours, and the remoteness.
Not everything went to plan. One film froze together inside the camera at -40C and wouldn’t rewind properly. Cameras needed to be acclimatised going back in to warm tents to prevent condensation getting everywhere (wrap the camera in a towel and put it in an air tight dry bag and leave for an hour). Batteries would fade and falter if cameras were not kept cosy inside jackets. Frost bite and frost nip were threats and constant note to self not to touch any exposed metal with my hands or even my cheeks when I raised the camera to my eye to shoot.
I will continue to use both digital and analogue cameras on my expeditions. Digital for live updates and analogue to capture the texture of the experience.
Jamie used an Olympus OM-1N loaded with Redscale XR 50-200 and shot at 32ASA and a Lomo LC-A+ loaded with Lomo X-Pro Chrome. His day job is Director of Digital Explorer, a non-profit organisation working with expeditions to turn them into educational experiences and resources for schools. More of his photos can be found at his Lomo Home – jamiebd.