Photo Essay

Melting Away

Melting Away documents the polar regions of our planet, their environments, life forms, history of human exploration, and the communities that work and live there. The images were made in both the Arctic regions of Svalbard, Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica. Nick Cave once sang, “All things move toward their end.” Icebergs give the impression of doing just that, in their individual way, much as humans do; they have been created of unique conditions and shaped by their environments to live a brief life in a manner solely their own. Some go the distance, traveling for many years, slowly being eroded by time and the elements; others get snagged on the rocks and are whittled away by persistent currents. Still, others dramatically collapse in fits of passion and fury. This essay chronicles just a handful of the many thousands of icebergs that are currently headed to their end.

I approach the images of icebergs as portraits of individuals, much like family photos of my ancestors. I seek a moment in their life in which they convey their unique personality, some connection to our own experience, and a glimpse of their soul which endures. As a Shinnecock Indian I was raised to know that all things are interconnected, that there is no such thing as separation or isolation. This way of seeing the world may seem foreign to you, for thousands of years we have listened to a story that gave man dominion over all the earth and its creatures. (How’s that been working out for us or the other life forms we share with this planet?) It is time for an older story to be brought back into the light, the one that reminds us that every molecule in our body was once part of a star. That we share this planet, that it does not belong to us, that we belong to it. That we all live in service to each other and that every action has an effect.

As I write this I have in my mind the poetry, the voice, of John Trudell:

We Hear what you say
One Earth, one Mother
One does not sell the Earth
The people walk upon
We are the land
How do we sell our Mother ?
How do we sell the stars ?
How do we sell the air ?

- from his poem Crazy Horse

When I first began traveling to the Arctic and Antarctic over ten years ago, I went out of curiosity, a need to see with my own eyes the glory and magnificence of my planet, our planet, our home. I documented what I felt and saw with my camera, I bore witness and knew that with this privilege came the responsibility of sharing that work, sharing the story and the experience of being in that sacred place of our planet. Without the frozen poles we lose climate stability. Within a decade the images I made were no longer what we had but what we were losing at an alarming rate, but things are always changing—adapt or die. There is no real death or end for an iceberg, only eternal recycling. The ice becomes the water becomes the vapor in the cloud to fall again as rain or snow. This is the way of it. How sad that my images will be the record for what it once looked like in a time when humans had intellect, technology, and reason but no will to see beyond their own timeline and possessed no desire to be a good ancestor.

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