A trip to Spitsbergen: Giulio Rimondi sailed aboard a tall ship, catching winds and currents for 15 days. His latest series explores a new field, away from human subjects, yet still deeply related to mankind and its role within Nature.
The eternal ice – challenge or passion?
I’d rather say attraction. This journey represented my first contact with the Arctic and the Great North, after more than a decade dedicated to different latitudes, with projects in the Mediterranean, West Africa and the Middle East. When I first thought about heading north, I wanted to radically change my horizons, venturing into the unknown, which for me was represented by this frozen land, a totally new environment, a wild space free from the constant presence of mankind.
What does a voyage on the Arctic Ocean mean for a photographer?
A great adventure, confronting the elements both physically and psychologically. In the Arctic, nature is powerful and somehow overwhelming, and it truly reveals the fragility of life. On the other hand, this constant challenge with the elements infused me with an energy I never felt before. Admiring a glacier, climbing over or diving below it, is a life changing experience. You get to know yourself more deeply, feeling fear and determination, and your vision of Nature will never be the same again.
How did you prepare?
It took me about two years to prepare for this journey. I decided to take part in a most exciting artist residency programme, The Arctic Circle, aboard the tall ship, Antigua. After I was selected, I needed to find sponsors to cover the costs as well as provide me with gear. My deepest gratitude to LFI and Leica Italia for the great equipment they gave me; to Flavio Milani and Ciesse Outdoor for funding the expedition; to DiveSystem and Nardi for providing top quality diving gear; and to EasyDive for creating a dedicated waterproof housing for the Leica SL. Aside from logistics, I trained hard to prepare for ice diving. Thanks to the friends at Sub Nettuno I gained confidence and technique, being able to perform very difficult dives with ease and tranquillity.
What was your impulse as a photographer?
To feel the journey, letting it orient the style of my work as well as presenting subjects and opportunities. I went to the Arctic as an artist, with no commission or assignment: I was free. Nature surrounded me, and that was where I focused. Images came one after another, slowly and constantly as we were sailing, each one revealing a different angle, with its own allure.
What kind of challenges is a “photographer in the ice” confronted with?
I was mostly confronted by two kinds of challenges: one during the fieldwork, the other back home; and I found the latter to be much more challenging… Photographing in the ice can be complicated, dangerous, and one must know the terrain well, stay calm and focused all the time. The frost, the ice cracking and carving, tempered me with fatigue; yet I was able to complete the journey and take home good material. There, however, I was confronted with something I didn’t expect: my images didn’t fully belong to any genre; they weren’t documentary photographs nor travel, nor any other of the classic categories. Finding a place for them is hard… such is the price you pay for challenging the norms, I suppose.
Are your images documents of beauty or should they also reflect a threat?
I’ve never had an exclusive commitment to beauty for my images. In these critical times we live in, I believe we have no right to indulge in sterile beauty; we must use it as a vehicle to spread meaning, touch awareness, and advocate for sustainable behaviours. I believe that all of my images respond to this urgency. With this series from the Arctic, in which the natural beauty is so evident, I especially tried to provide my images with multiple layers of meaning. I built up the series in a non-descriptive way, leaving it open to interpretation. This, I believe, is the only way that images can engage in a dialogue with the viewers, triggering cognitive responses and critical thinking.
Do you consider your series a social/political appeal?
Absolutely, yes. It goes without saying that the message I expect to convey through my images is intended to be sharp and deliberately unsettling. I aim to engage the sensitivities of viewers around an urgent planetary phenomena bound to affect us all, but nowhere as manifestly as in the Arctic. This region is being impacted by global warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe; while consequences are unforeseeable, they are most certainly bound to be catastrophic. As an artist I’m compelled to steer on an obstinate and dissenting course, using my artistic voice to inspire respect for the natural equilibrium on which our very survival depends.
What was your experience with your camera, the Leica SL?
Coming from a decade of the Leica M system, I initially found this camera and its lenses quite big and heavy. As soon as I began the fieldwork and got used to its size, I immediately appreciated the absolute precision and reliability of the electronics, and the superb quality of the lenses. But the greatest surprise came once I was back home, in the printing room. The quality of the files was extraordinary, allowing me to control every detail in the printing process in a way that truly surprised me. So far, the Leica SL has allowed me to produce the finest prints I’ve ever made.
How did your perspective of the world change during this trip?
I like to think of this journey as a new chapter in my life. Not only because of the geographical area that I touched for the first time, but also because of the interest and awareness it triggered. It is a privilege to venture to one of the last wild places on Earth, to show proof of the damage that man has caused, and a to underline our responsibility to act, so that Nature can thrive again.
Giulio Rimondi was born in Italy in 1984. From the very start he combined art photography with socially-committed reporting, focusing in particular on the human dimensions of a subject. His images are part of the Maison Europénne de la Photographie collection in Paris and of the Library of Congress collection in Washington DC. As a photojournalist he has contributed to international publications like TIME, CNN, The New York Times-Lens, National Geographic and Le Monde. He has been awarded the Lead Award for still-life photography, the Iceberg Prize for Documentary, the Special Prize and the San Fedele Prize for Contemporary Art. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.