It’s a view perhaps at odds with his disclosure, in the interview that closes this book, that a visit to Auschwitz where he examined photographs taken by the Nazis of arriving children, made him aware of how complicit an act photography can be. That aside, this collection of images is a study of communities; his attempt ‘to find the welcome’.
The place in question is the Arctic Circle, the line at which, once a year, there’s a day where the sun doesn’t set and another on which it doesn’t rise. Travelling that line, Barnett captures a wide variety of peoples, each with a ‘distinctive genius for living in a northern setting’. The potential harshness of the terrain is clear enough: the burial ground at Repulse Bay – a haphazard row of crosses set in icy ground – puts life on the Circle into perspective. Arctic sheep snuggle down in rows indoors; a glum-looking fisherman baits his lines, waiting for a break in the weather; a candlelit gallery owner peers through a frosted window, possibly wondering if customers are ever going to show up.
But a bird-house in a Swedish tree could be a Mediterranean study, and the Icelandic handyman, all togged up to hang the town’s Christmas lights, looks like he’s on his way to a Halloween party. Other images hint at stories, or ask questions. A Russian herder drinks fresh reindeer blood from a vividly stained pan: is that a personal quirk or a local custom?
If by ‘the welcome’ Barnett means being allowed glimpses into inner lives and private worlds, there’s plenty of that on offer here.
LIFE ON THE LINE: People of the Arctic Circle by Cristian Barnett, Polarworld, £30
This review was published in the December 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine