Arctic Climate Change, Nature, and Indigenous Culture Photography





Stephen Gorman on Expedition in Nunavik, Canadian Arctic

To thrive in their challenging Arctic homeland, the Inuit rely upon the wisdom and guidance of traditional knowledge passed down for millennia. This traditional ecological and adaptive knowledge, called Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in Inuktitut, includes not only a road map for navigating the physical landscape, but also guidance for safely negotiating the spiritual landscape as well. For Inuit the two are the same, encompassed by a sentient, animate, mystic power permeating all of existence they call Sila.

I have heard Sila described this way:

Sila is our concept for the weather, the climate, the mind, consciousness. It is the universal order where man is in unity with nature. Sila is the shared life that the sea, wind, mountains, animals, and humans possess. When you share consciousness with nature you treat nature with respect.”

For more than two decades I have traveled with Inuit companions across the Arctic from Alaska to Greenland on foot, by dogsled, canoe, kayak, ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, fishing boat, helicopter, and bush plane in order to document not only the land, people, and wildlife of the far north, but also the dramatic environmental and cultural changes taking place at the top of the world.

To tell these stories I knew that I needed to get to know the land, the people, and the wildlife intimately. I had to get close. I had to spend long periods living up there out on the sea ice, out on the tundra, out on the winter trail.

Pursuing these stories and photographs I have spent numerous nights waking to the sound of sled dogs howling, telling me that polar bears were sniffing around my tent. I’ve traveled over the sea ice through blizzards and subzero temperatures with Inuit hunters. I’ve frosted my fingers and toes and cheeks, and more than once questioned what on earth I was doing.

But in pursuing these stories and photographs I have also sledded into remote villages in the middle of the night and been welcomed like a relative. I have camped on the sea ice at the floe-edge with narwhal and seal hunters. I have learned traditional crafts from elders who were born and raised in tents and igloos “out on the land.” I have stood in the snow at 30 below zero and watched with awe as the aurora borealis swirled and snapped across the inky night sky.

I do this because I want to bring back stories and images of this strange, remote, raw, uncompromising yet beautiful and fragile land. I want people to hear these stories and see these photographs, and I want them to care about all wild places and the people and the wildlife who live there as much as I do.

My mission is to bring back the stories of still intact ecosystems and peoples who have not lost the essence of their traditional cultures. Through these stories we can learn once again how to live wisely, adapting to inevitable change while preserving the ecosystems and the local traditions that are so vital to all cultures and to the health of the planet.

Through my words and images I hope the audience will feel kinship with the landscapes, the people, and the wildlife of the world's last wild regions. I hope they will take a good look, and get close. And if they see something that moves them, I hope they are inspired to take action, in their own way, to make sure these scenes do not vanish forever.