The camera chronicles changes in the Arctic

The melting of ice in the Arctic has increased rapidly in recent years, and glaciers in several areas are disappearing. The scientific findings are clear, but it can be difficult to get an overview of the drastic changes that are going on. Photographer Tyrone Martinsson at Valand Academy uses rephotography to create a narrative of what’s happening in the Arctic.

In rephotography, researchers use historical photos of specific places as a basis for going out in the field and locating the sites where they were taken. At the site new photos are then taken, and by comparing them with the historical ones, it’s possible to create a picture of how the site has changed over time.

“Basically, I’m interested in how photographic images can be used in matters that affect people in relation to the environment”, says Tyrone Martinsson.

Rephotography chronicles how a site changes over a period of time. The upper photo was taken in 1930 by Carl Müller & Sohn. The lower photo by Tyrone Martinsson is from 2016.

He’s a senior lecturer in photography at the University of Gothenburg and has wholeheartedly devoted himself to a field called environmental photography. In recent years he has conducted research in the Svalbard Islands, where he used rephotographic methods based on pictures taken in 1896 by the scientist Nils Strindberg. Swedish photography on Svalbard began in 1861, and the photos from the early polar expeditions constitute a valuable archive for studying changes over a period of time. In one of Tyrone’s research projects, which resulted in the book Frusna Ögonblick (Frozen Moments), he looked for old polar photos and digitised them to visually document developments there.

Much of Tyrone’s work has involved finding the places on Svalbard that Strindberg photographed. It has been a rather exacting task because the views have changed. If you look at a photo taken by Strindberg in the 19th century, it’s difficult to recognise where it was taken.

“There was a lot of ice at the time, and the photos don’t resemble how the site looks today at all. The large glaciers have changed, and the small glaciers that existed then are completely gone.”

Even during the relatively short time Tyrone worked at Svalbard, he has been able to see how the landscape and glaciers have changed. He has worked together with glaciologists who helped him to interpret the landscape and find explanations for various changes. For example, there are melting glaciers that undergo change for reasons other than climate. By working together, it has been possible to construct long narratives that also make it possible to see where we are headed.

Tyrone Martinsson on Svalbard.

Tyrone currently is working on a project called “The long narrative”. It’s a tool for studying the Magdalene Fjord on Svalbard that is based on visual documentation extending 200 years back in time. The material makes it possible to recreate what the site looked like in the mid-1800s and at the same time convey what it looks like today.

In several contexts Tyrone has worked to create interdisciplinary collaboration and meetings that transcend disciplinary boundaries. Collaboration between photography, art and science is something that interests him.
“Many of the best discussions I’ve had about photography I’ve had with scientists in the field.”