• Elena KOLLATOU & Leonidas TOUMPANOS

Polaris


Skavvi”: Crust of ice on snow, formed in the evening after the sun has thawed the top of the snow during the day.

Arctic represents one of the least populated areas in the world; half of this Arctic population lives in Russia. The Russian Arctic population increased during Soviet Times due to a well-designed strategy aimed to exploit the resources and wealth of the region. Russia’s north is rich in oil, gas, diamonds, nickel, copper, platinum, iron and timber and the Soviet Union foresaw the economic and strategic potential of its Arctic territories. USSR ambition for dominance in the Arctic made development plans for exploitation of the mineral resources, funded scientific research and Arctic exploration and maintained a bold military presence in the region.
Arctic was an important asset for the Soviet era, it was transformed to one of the prime sources of raw materials for the Soviet Economy and changed completely, until then, economic geography of the country. But the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and the subsequent economic shrinking brought the abandonment of the northern projects, all the scientific stations closed and many towns left to their own survival.

In the twenty first century, as Russia moves out of the economic stagnation, returns to the Arctic and attempts to take the advantage of economic opportunities. Russia considers the Arctic its national future and brings back up the economic and development plans for mineral resources and desires to become the dominant power of the region. The Russian interests in the Arctic, are also advanced by environmental changes and melting ice and encapsulate among others the establishment of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) as a shipping lane between Northwest Europe and countries such as China, Japan and South Korea. The NSR greatly reduces transit time in comparison to Suez Canal and if Russia is successful in establishing the NSR as a safe passage between Europe and Asia the Arctic coastline will find itself in the 21st century’s silk route.

Russia’s fervent focus on Arctic development is apparent in the major improvement that is planning to undertake in more than ten ports, while is building new terminals and relief ports for ships that need repair. The northern coast of the country is undergoing a major upgrade with old terminals being reconstructed and new ports being established. The Russian plans, together with environmental changes amplify the transformation of the Arctic and the scenery will be completely different in few decades.

This project documents the landscape of Russian Arctic in this turning moment. This body of work is about Murmansk oblast. Murmansk is the biggest city of the Arctic Circle and benefits from an ice free port all year round; fact that makes the city an important fishing and shipping point for Russia. In Murmansk, also, is located Atomflot, the world’s only fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers.
The light connotes the ambivalent future of this pristine part of our planet, which is either in dawn or dusk. The area covered in snow peacefully and silently is waiting with tension the next era that will assess the future of the Arctic.

Elena KOLLATOU & Leonidas TOUMPANOS

Elena Kollatou (born 1984, Athens, Greece) and Leonidas Toumpanos (born 1983, Athens, Greece) are documentary photographers living and working in London. Elena holds a BA (HONS) degree on Photography and Film from Edinburgh Napier University and Leonidas holds a MA degree on Photojournalism and Documentary Photography in University of Arts in London. They are working collaboratively on long-term environmental and social projects. Together they participate in exhibitions and publish their work in international magazines and websites.