Julia de Cooker: Photographing the Far North
In her statement, France-based photographer Julia de Cooker poses the question, “Is living in Longyearbyen really living on this planet?” While the answer may seem obvious, the longer I thought about the isolated Norwegian archipelago the less sure I became. In Svalbard, an Arcticficial Life, Cooker immerses the viewer in a place devoid of an indigenous population. A place where the majority of goods essential for human life must be imported. Where vast stretches of ice are punctuated by the steep rise of treeless mountain faces. Where the polar bear population exceeds that of the human one. However, for all its otherworldly qualities, residents of Longyearbyen now face a very earthly and contemporary issue: climate change. This era-defining phenomenon at once threatens the region while tethering it to the rest of the world, highlighting that while life may seem alien on this distant outpost, we as residents of earth are all bound by both principal and fate.
Julia de Cooker celebrates the untouched beauty of ordinary, daily life of places far afield, eschewing the instant photos served up by an endless media blitz. Her photos represent a Time-out – a moment of pause and reflection for both the artist and the spectator- offering a moment of calm in a world where the «catastrophic image» surrounds us. Her aim is to document a lively world in all four corners of our albeit round world. Her many voyages have permitted her to establish portraits of diverse communities, some isolated and silent, others sadly brought to the forefront.
Formed by a study of the great Flemish painters and their skillful play of light, she has integrated this aesthetic, filtered through her own sensibilities, to serve as an emissary of photographic ethnology. Intrigued by the many parallel elements that constitute our world, she tirelessly continues her journey of discovery and witness to the manners and mores of man’s existence on our planet.
She holds a diploma (2012) from the Ecole Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne,Switzerland. Finalist in 2018 of the Prix Levallois for her project Svalbard, an arcticficial life she is also the recipient of a grant Brouillon d’un rêve from the SCAM for an upcoming documentary about Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. She is finalist for the Prix Nouvelles Ecritures pour la Photographie Environnementale de La Gacilly (2021) for her project Funafuti.
She is the photographer selected for the 2021-2022 residency Lumière d’Encre (Céret, France).
Svalbard, an Arcticficial Life
Living in Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost town, is by choice. No one is allowed to be born there, nor to die. One must pack up one’s bags and take them to go and live in Svalbard. Under Norwegian sovereignty, it is the only country where no visas are required to travel, work and live. At present the main sectors of the economy of this surprising town are tourism and scientific research. Something strikes – surprises – when one walks in its streets. There is an absolute contrast between the cocoon of modern city life and the wild and hostile arctic that surrounds it.
Svalbard’s inhabitants are well placed to witness climate change. Each year is more worrisome than the previous one. Permafrost is melting, the ice pack no longer solidifies, the rain later and later turning into snow, winter makes itself waited for, and avalanches and landslides are more and more frequent. Is living in Longyearbyen really living on this planet ? Like a plant without soil, one lives on imports, of food, of construction material that the arctic desert does not provide. Thinking to be able to extract from this hectic world Longyearbyen’s inhabitants clearly and bitterly witness the impact of global warming. At the same time they close their eyes on their own lifestyle that represent the modern western ideals that have become disastrous, i.e. to dominate nature rather than fuse with it. What if Svalbard asks us to cease this denial?
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