Disappearing ice age

As sea temperatures rise, life conditions for seals are changing. With many Greenlanders dependent on seals, both for food and the income generated from selling sealskin, the changing conditions are causing great insecurity. {{name}}
01 July, 2011

OVER THE PAST CENTURY, adventurers have travelled to Greenland to explore this unknown land of ice and myths. The pictures they brought back depicted heroes battling nature. Today, however, many of us know very little about life on the world’s largest island, where 57,600 inhabitants live on 19 percent of the land while the rest is covered with ice.

Greenland is going through a period of rapid change. The government is reconfiguring after hundreds of years under Danish rule. Climate change is reshaping the natural environment. As the global temperature rises, glaciers in Greenland are melting at a record pace, which in turn is threatening sea life and traditional livelihoods.

Triggered by her curiosity to take a deeper look at a culture in flux, Andrea Gjestvang first travelled to Greenland in 2008. Over the following years, she spent several weeks visiting small communities along the west and east coasts, and in the very north. Most of the inhabitants live in isolated settlements on the coastline, and with limited job opportunities, they depend directly on nature for survival. But while the idea of a strong hunting culture is alive in Greenlandic legends and myths, the reality is that life support in these villages often comes in the form of government social funding.

Environmental change is expected to open up new opportunities, as vast oil, gas and mineral resources are discovered beneath the ice. Many people put their faith in this and believe that this new income might help to end the huge annual subsidies—almost 50 percent of public spending—the country receives from Denmark, and allow a definite separation from its former colonial master.

Through her project, ‘Disappearing Ice Age’, Gjestvang tries to observe what happens to small settlements and intimate family life when traditional livelihoods disappear and people need to search for a new identity and new ways of living.

The project was funded by a scholarship from the Freedom of Expression Foundation (Norway), and has been exhibited in solo shows in Hamburg and Milan, as well as in photography festivals in Europe and the US. The pictures were recently a part of the main exhibition, ‘Hope: Between Dream and Reality’, at New York Photo Festival 2011.