A big Glaucous Gull is staring at us from outside into the breakfast room. He has been there every day since we arrived, peeking through the glass on our wonderful selection of bread, cheese, meat and eggs. It is 18 August 2015, the Scientific Expedition to Edgeøya & Spitsbergen is about to take off. This period was especially chosen as the sun is still available 24 hours a day, the light is on for the entire time and so are the scientists. We’re all eager to get going and get to work.
Solargraphy takes time
My own work on Spitsbergen had actually already begun in June, just before the sun reaches it’s highest point. I had installed many small pinhole camera’s around Hotel Polarriggen and throughout the town of Lonyearbyen. The shutter of each camera was opened and the sun could start doing it’s work, etching it’s track on the light sensitive photo paper inside. A similar procedure was followed by Maarten Loonen in the town of Ny Ålesund. This small settlement is only inhabited by scientists, Loonen runs the Dutch Polar station situated there and he helped placing my camera’s. The shutters would stay open for two moths allowing to record a solar track each day when it is visible.
Picking up the cameras
Now I am back. I left the cameras for the summer, and I have to get busy collecting some of the cameras I had set out. The expedition will be taking us away from Longyearbyen and there is not much time afterward to work. I look for the cameras in the mountains throughout Longyearbyen. The cemetery, the mine ruins on the slopes of the hill, the bridge, most of the cameras are still present. I close the shutter, write down where I put them and what date I picked them up. I learned later that some of them were lost to enthusiastic geo cashers.
I run to the post office to send the first batch of pin-hole cameras to the Netherlands so they can be stored for further processing later on. It’s better than spread the risk of losing them, so this is the first group that gets send home.
Taxi is here! Finally we can all go to the harbor and board Ortelius, the expedition’s vessel. We board the zodiacs and are taken to the ship. There the zodiac slides next to a small platform with a stairways that brings us to deck three where we can enlist at the reception. The bags are already in my room when I enter it. I can get started right away, creating long exposure photographs from my windows. I have a lot of space to work on my project and the bathroom can operate as photographic dark room so I can create new cameras while we are on the water. After permission from the captain, I begin my sunlight painting experiment on board the ship.
A living breathing sea creature
The ship sails out of the main Isfjorden, turns left onto open ocean and we ‘hit’ a beautiful rolling swell that makes some people feel a bit seasick. I had no idea how I would respond to this as it is a first time on a vessel like this on an open ocean. Luckily, apart from ‘feeling drunk’ while I didn’t drink, there is no motion sickness present, I am actually noticing how much I like it.
The sound of the ship is something that adds to the experience. I love the creeks and squeeks around me when I move around on deck and through the halls and corridors. The mixture of wood and metal combined with the constant soft boiling of the engine make it sound as if the ship is alive. A living breathing sea creature that is protecting her cargo, a group of eager scientists that lie deep in her belly, rocking back and forth on the rhythm of the arctic ocean. My own sleep is fairly good that night.
A lonely gull is drifting towards the sun, side by side with Ortelius.
This is an excerpt of a 14 day log book. The whole story with pictures, films and audios is available here.
About the images
Solar tracks can be directly recorded through a lensless pin-hole camera and ‘written’ on to light sensitive paper. The exposure time can be months, years. The images in this project have been exposed from several hours to just over 2 months.
The artist would like to thank the following for their support
Music: Gates of Dawn by Heartless Bastards, from the album Restless Ones
Creative Industries Fund, the Netherlands
Sees NL Expedition
University of Groningen
Willem Barentsz Polar Institute
Ocean Wide Expeditions
Note for curators
This project has been on display in exhibits in the Netherlands. Please contact the studio if you are interested in the full story and all the images.
Udo Prinsen is a visual artist with a background in film and animation design. He participated as a member of the Sees NL expedition to Spitsbergen and Edgeøya. During the voyage he has been ‘painting with sunlight’ and used analogue methods of photography and film in order to capture the cultural and historical perspective of the expedition.
Prinsen is captivated by the technique of solargraphy and is working on a dream to create many more moving solargraphy storybooks from around the world.