Dave Brosha & Stephen DesRoches
The icebergs. The northern lights. The volcanic rock. The small towns only accessible by air. There is so much to love about Greenland, though it’s not often at the top of a travellers’ desired destination list. It comes with a reputation of being remote, isolated, challenging and difficult to reach. For photographers interested in adventure and a landscape relatively untouched by humans, it can be a perfect destination.
Our first trip to Greenland in 2015 was pure exploration. Our group of 3 went with experience photographing Canada’s north but we didn’t really know what to expect with Greenland. It was a scouting and planning trip for future visits in the hopes of a return visit in the fall of 2016 but with a larger group of 16 other photographers. We’ve now had 2 fantastic trips to Greenland and currently planning for a 3rd in September 2017 in the hopes of sharing it with a new group of 16.
For this trip, we decided to make the town of Ilulissat our home base located 350km north of the Arctic Circle. It’s the 3rd largest city in Greenland with a population of about 5,000.
This location is known for the Ilulissat Icefjord and the Jakobshavn Glacier. It’s one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world retreating on average of 5 metres (150 ft) per day. Wikipedia describes it as: "[the] Jakobshavn Glacier drains 6.5% of the Greenland ice sheet and produces around 10% of all Greenland icebergs. Some 35 billion tonnes of icebergs calve off and pass out of the fjord every year. Icebergs breaking from the glacier are often so large (up to a kilometer in height) that they are too tall to float down the fjord and lie stuck on the bottom...”
"Some 35 billion tonnes of icebergs calve off and pass out of the fjord every year.”
Ilulissat is also the location of the 2012 documentary "Chasing Ice”. In that film, the cameras recorded a single 75 minute event that watched 7.4 cubic kilometres of ice break off the glacier.
As much as I love watching the ice change from day to day, taking the all-day ferry across the bay to Disko Island is worlds apart from the mainland. The town of Qeqertarsuaq has 800 residents and surrounded by black sand beaches, volcanic rock and some waterfalls.
Walking a few kilometres out of town and you were instantly dropped in a landscape that is your temporary private Garden of Eden. So much to explore. So much to photograph. Just us with only the sound of crashing waves.
There are so many memories from this trip that stand out from this trip. Flying in over Ilulissat for the first time and seeing the volume of ice floating out of the icefjord and into Disko Bay was pretty exciting. We couldn’t wait to get off the plane and hike the coastline. After seeing the ice from land, we had to find a local boat owner to see all of the ice up close. The shear size of these icebergs are so difficult to describe or share in photographs. There are many tour operators. We went with the Ilulissat Water Taxi and set out into the ice field for a few unforgettable evenings.
Another big moment on this trip was a night camping next to Eqip Sermia. Unlike Jakobshavn that is only accessible by air, this glacier is accessible by boat and we asked the Illulissat Water Taxi to take us the 70 kilometres north, drop us off and return the following day for pickup. During the summer months, this location is a tourism destination with a few cottages but in the fall season, we were all alone. It was as remote and unconnected from the outside world as I have ever been. Nothing but the sound of breaking ice which on average, falls off this glacier wall every 10 minutes. In our short 24 hours, the profile of this wall made noticeable changes.
There is certainly a balance when combining photography with travel. It’s easy to allow photography to take over with the excitement of a new place and a location of unfamiliar elements. The goal is to come home with souvenirs in the form of photographs that highlight your experience but you also want to experience the local culture outside of the viewfinder as well. If anything, photography kind of encourages you to slow down and take a closer look at everything. Most mornings and evenings, you could find us somewhere, just observing and looking or waiting for that moment.
It’s a big planet and we only have so many opportunities to see a small percentage of it. Seeing what lies beyond our small island and creating images of those landscapes in our own unique way is a creative exercise and one of many ways to keep creating. It’s creating art for yourself. It helps appreciate what we have here at home and better understand what we see in media.
Writing your own stories through personal experiences are memories that are priceless. They’ll last a lifetime.