‘Last Days of the Arctic’ on PBS’ ‘Global Voices’ Starting 10 June + Photos

“Being there was simply amazing. When you inhaled, your mouth was filled with tiny stones and ash. I thought, ‘This is not good,’ but I could not pass it up. It was a unique opportunity it was like being offered a ride to the moon. You just go. You don’t ask any questions. Remembering the 2010 volcanic eruption on Fimmvörðuháls/Eyjafjallajökull, Ragnar Alexsson gets at the intriguing center of his work as a photographer. He’s thrilled by the danger, drawn to the drama, and “inspired,” as he says, “by the amazing interplay between man and nature.” But he’s also witness to any number of tragedies and disasters: storms and volcanoes creating havoc, ships run aground, lives ended. Increasingly, is subjects are shaped by forces “outside” the North — Iceland, Alaska, Greenland — where he’s been shooting for over 20 years. Increasingly, he finds himself focused on “the human faces of climate change.”

Alexsson’s art is itself the focus of Last Days of the Arctic, a 50-minute version of which is premiering 10 June on Global Voices. Leading Margrét Jónasdóttir and Magnus Vidar Sigurdsson’s crew for the documentary, he explains how he came to his interests, and how his work, for the newspaper Morgunblaðið as well as his exhibitions and books, have led him to his own sense of wonder. “Out there, you understood,” he says, “There you sensed [natural forces] and created your own world around them.” The film cuts between footage of his recent visits to Reynisdrangafjara (where he shoots fishermen), Landmannalaugar, Iceland (sheep country), and Ittoqqrtoormiit (hunting), and his remarkable black and white photos, portraits of weathered faces in hard weather, men and dogs and polar bears, water and mountains and ice forever. Observing a friend and whaler named Hjelmer, Alexxson appreciates his generosity and his dedication to “a lifestyle he’s been brought up to respect.” But now, the artist narrates, “It is being destroyed by rules and regulations from the outside world and I think he feels confused.”

If Alexxson doesn’t expand on how these regulations are responding to disasters brought on by previous decades of abuse, the film reminds you of the majesty of the world that’s at stake. The Inuits and Icelanders have always struggled to survive. Now they’re facing new forces and new struggles.

Gudjon Thorsteinsson in Gardakot

Ole with his gun ready to shoot a seal

Fisherman Axel with eyes closed waiting for his flask of coffee, and his dog Tyri standing on a skerry

Gudjon Thorsteinsson and his horse

Thordur Gudnason with his dog, tired and sad at the roundup

Narwhale hunters in Thule/Qaanaaq, Greenland

RATING 8 / 10