Evgenia Arbugaeva was born in 1985 in the town of Tiksi, located in Russia’s High North. In 2013 and again in 2018 she traveled to the region to photograph these remote locations as they are today. In conversation with Erica Dingman, Evgenia discusses her work, the people she met and how the Russian Arctic has changed since she lived there as a child. Her photographs are powerful and speak for themselves
Introduction by Erica Dingman
By Evgenia Arbugaeva
In 2013, Evgenia Arbugaeva returned to the land of her childhood aboard the icebreaker, Mikhail Somov, to travel along the shoreline of Russia’s High North. Evgenia grew up in Tiksi, USSR, a bustling seaport of 12,000 people when she lived there. The population has now greatly decreased to about 5,000. Born at the height of Soviet development in the Arctic, her childhood was defined by the lore of Arctic exploration, and remote islands visited only by adventurers and scientists. Evgenia wanted to see for herself what had become of these remote regions. During her 2 ½ month voyage aboard the Mikhail Somov, the ship made brief stops at 22 meteorological stations, delivering a years worth of supplies to hard-to-reach Arctic stations. In 2018 she became a National Geographic Fellow, which gave her the resources to return to the Russian Arctic for a longer duration.
Development of the Russian High North began in the 1930s and reached its peak in the 1980s. In 1991, there was a massive exodus with the fall of the USSR. When this occurred, the government stopped supporting its Arctic projects, salaries were no longer paid and people were forced to move. The photographs presented here are from a series called Hyperborea. Together Evgenia’s images open a window into Russia’s High North. These photographs were taken during her travels in 2018-2019, with the exception of Weatherman which were taken in 2013.
“I wanted to capture the atmosphere of the Polar night, of darkness, but also the beauty of solitude, a kind of meditative space.” Built in the 1930s, Evgenia feels fortunate to have captured these images of this meteorological station. The station has since relocated to a new building.
“I really marveled at the softer side of the Arctic and seeing the landscape with a feminine aesthetic and colors.”
“Dikson is, in a way, the sister town to Tiksi, my birth place. So I really wanted to visit here. The architecture is almost identical and it was also an important seaport on the Northern Sea Route.” The town is split into two parts. The mainland has about 500 occupants now and the island completely abandoned. At its height the population of Dikson island was around 2,000 people. These images were taken on the island.
“My brother and I visited this remote village of about 300 people on the coast of the Chukchi Sea. From the beginning, the villagers welcomed us with great warmth. As outsiders we stood out and I was really touched that people did not ask why we were here. They were only concerned that we didn’t have anything to eat since we had not hunted for our food. They offered us both meat and fish.”
Evgenia will be presenting her work at the World Affairs Council on June 1, 2021. This is a FREE virtual event. You can register here.
Evgenia Arbugaeva was born in 1985 in the town of Tiksi, located on the shore the Laptev Sea in the Republic of Yakutia in Russia. In her personal work she often looks into her homeland – the Arctic, discovering and capturing the remote worlds and people who inhabit them. She is a National Geographic Society Storytelling Fellow, a recipient of the ICP Infinity Award, Leica Oskar Barnack Award. Her work has been exhibited internationally and appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Time and The New Yorker magazines among others. She lives in London, UK.
[Photos courtesy of Evgenia Arbugaeva]
[Interview conducted by Erica Dingman, director of Arctic in Context]
You can see more of Evgenia’s photos here.
Follow her on Instagram @evgenia_arbugaeva