OTOMYS: In 2017 you observed one of the world’s most intense landscapes and captured it’s character. Tell us about your time in the Arctic, which is a dramatic contrast to your home in Australia.
Rohan Hutchinson: The time spent in the Arctic was around eight days, late February and early March in 2017, a week prior to the infamous flooding of the global seed vault. During this time, daylight consisted of about 6 hours. During the stay, I was prominently on an expedition with an Italian/Norwegian group traveling the ice by snowmobile. During the nights, we were stationed in a bear-proof hut, and days were spent traveling throughout the vast landscape and observing the contrast between the arctic desert, glacier fronts, and the ice-covered fjords.
Apart from confronting the shadowless landscape and extreme cold, the most significant contrast was phycological, knowing that a group of tourists had been attacked months earlier and killed by a polar bear in the region, along with traveling with guides who were well-armed in case of an encounter. This defiantly added to a sense of adventure but also precaution. Weaponry is not something we encounter in Australia and takes a bit of getting used to. To note, prior to departing for the Arctic, I also had to take shooting lessons as a precautionary action.
OTOMYS: What were some of your greatest challenges and highlights on this assignment?
Rohan Hutchinson: There were two main challenges; firstly, working with a large format film camera in conditions reaching -30; the problem here is only being able to have the camera exposed in the field for a limited time, to decrease the probability of the bellows freezing if this happened the camera would cease to work, along with the limited film, film holders carry two negatives per unit, only being able to take seven holders per day, this limited me to 14 negatives a day. Changing film under these conditions in the field is simply not an option.
The main challenge, though, was the darkroom work; the process included physically having to build and deconstruct massive darkroom trays to lay on the floor to accommodate with paper size each day, along with the decanting of around 60litres of chemicals and trying to keep these under control, in addition, the process of the liquid light, this is not a chemical that I’ve ever seen used in such massive quantities.
OTOMYS: Your large format photographs are not a documentation of the Arctic but rather a powerful conversation; they are sold as original works, not in a limited edition format and only in pairs. Parts A+B offer opposing narratives about the consequence of anthropogenic global warming. What are the parallels of what we see in your work and the condition of global geophysical health?
Rohan Hutchinson: From day one, I wanted to go to the Arctic and make a statement about climate change and our responsibilities. Not to simply go there and photograph the landscape. The concept and workings, and what you see in front of you, is five years of research, considering methods and processes of artists responding to the climate catastrophe and how to respond.
As you see in front of you, Part B is a chemical reaction caused by the Australian sun on the Arctic landscape. To explain further, the original large format negative has been printed twice; the first print represents the pristine arctic landscape (part A), and the second, I have then re-sensitized it using a photographic emulsion, done by melting a photographic gel in heated water and violently painting the large work in darkroom darkness.
The next stage is to expose it, usually done via a darkroom enlarger; to link the concept of our actions on that specific landscape and to have a cohesive conceptual thread running through both works, I decided to take the print outside and expose it to the Australian sun. In response, the sun completely burns, blackens, and erases the pristine Arctic landscape lying behind it, representing how actions done within Australia affect the Arctic landscape.
May 11, 2023