Name: QITITTUT, DANCING ANCESTORS
© 2012 Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq/Sven Nieder/Light Ambassadors: Adam Lyberth, Helena Eva Lyberth, Ursilla Poulsen, Tina Lyberth, Juliane Abrahamsen, Anguak Niko Lennert
Tech Data: Leica S, Elmarit-S 30 mm, ISO 320, f/3.4, 45 seconds
“Only by melting the ice in the heart of Man does Man have a chance to change and begin using his knowledge wisely.”
Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq is an international photographic art and film project that captures Greenland’s disappearing ice in breathtaking photos and film. With extraordinary photographs shot during the polar night, the venture sheds light upon the fragility of the world of ice. The project team includes Nomi Baumgartl (photographer and initiator), Sven Nieder (photographer), Yatri N. Niehaus (film director), and Laali Lyberth (coordinator for Greenland). The first light expedition took place in November 2012, with another in February 2013. Together with Greenlanders, the team literally “photo-graphed.” They “painted with light”—illuminating icebergs and glaciers with high-powered flashlights—thereby sending light-messages into the world through the medium of photography. Using time exposure under the northern lights, these light-paintings, true works of art, were produced along with awe-inspiring shots of the project and its light ambassadors. With temperatures of –40 degrees Celsius at times, man and technology were pushed beyond their limits. As of 2014, the beauty of the resulting photos and the message of Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq are being spread throughout the world in a photographic compilation of the expedition in a book, international exhibitions, a film, and much more. Once the successful implementation of this phase has been achieved, the project will pursue further concepts. The photographs will be on exhibition at the Leica Gallery Los Angeles starting December 13 and running through January 25, 2015.
Here are brief bios for Nomi Baumgartl and Sven Nieder, two of the dedicated team members who answered our questions:
Nomi Baumgartl was born in 1950 in southern Germany. The internationally renowned freelance photographer lives in Munich and works all over the world on her projects. Her life’s work focuses on showing the connections and complex associations of people, animals and nature, oceans and the earth—homage to Creation. Numerous publications, inclusions in magazines and books, films, exhibitions and awards are proof of Nomi’s successful international carrier. Her works are represented in notable collections and museums, including the Bibliothèque Nationale Paris Museum Ludwig in Köln, F.C. Gundlach in Hamburg, and the Silvius Dornier Collection.
Sven Nieder, born in 1976, learned classical photography in a family run business. He graduated in 2004 from the Bielefeld College of Applied Science with a diploma in composition. Traveling the world over, Sven’s work appears in numerous coffee-table books and as photo-reportages in magazines, as well as exhibitions all over Germany. He has taught photography over the past few years at the College of Applied Science in Trier, is an artist in the Culture and School Project for the region of Nordrhein Westfahlen and was also active on the country’s board of directors at the Freelens Association. Sven Nieder works the world over as a freelance photographer, with a focus on coffee-table books, reportages, and artistic concepts.
Q: How did the Stella Polaris project come together and how did you arrange for sponsorship, financing, logistics, etc. on what must have been a very challenging undertaking? How long did it take to organize this project?
Nomi (N): In 2009 I was invited to the Sacred Fire Ceremony held by Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Greenland shaman, with elders and wisdom keepers from five continents. His message on global warming and the melting of the big ice triggered something deep in me. The following two years I worked on the photo art project Arctic Message: “The Vanishing World of Icebergs.” “We are all an integrated part of nature, a part of the universe.” This quote by Andreas Feininger has governed my life.
At a very special point in my life and shortly after the Fukushima nuclear accident, I had a vision in the middle of a cold night stargazing in southern Germany. In a strong inner image, I saw shining icebergs in the northern light. I was completely awed, since I had never seen anything like it in reality.
Afterward I came to understand that realizing this vision was too big a project for one person, I remembered an intense, deeply moving moment that I had shared with my colleague, Sven Nieder, whom I had met at the Sacred Fire.
As it turned out, he was a specialist at light painting and we decided to work on a concept together. With the addition of Laali Lyberth, we had a native Greenlander in our team who organized and coordinated the contacts to the light ambassadors, travel and logistics. Yatri N. Niehaus joined the team only a few months before the start of the trip. A gifted filmmaker, he came from the Filmhochschule, Munich and was fascinated with the vision and the concept of our project. It became a heartfelt concern for us all to execute it, and that bound us together. We were able to gain Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq as our mentor, who guided us with his spiritual strength and his worldwide message: “Only by melting the ice in the heart of Man does Man have a chance to change and begin using his knowledge wisely.”
After receiving the stunning vision, I gave thanks to the stars above me, especially the North Star, for giving me a new guidance in this important theme of consciousness on global warming. That is how the name of the project Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq came about.
It took a year of preparation before we could start on our first light expedition in November 2012, returning again three months later in February 2013. We financed the whole expedition ourselves in order to be independent of outside sponsors. As a result of my 40 years as a passionate Leica photographer, we were able to enlist Leica as a generous supporter. They supplied us with the Leica S-System equipment for both expeditions.
Sven (S): In 2009 I was working on a book in Greenland. Elders and shamans from all over the work met there to fulfill an ancient prophecy and light a fire from wood that now grows due to climate change in the arctic for the first time in thousands of years. Dr. Jane Goodall was a guest too and Nomi was traveling with her. There, on the fire, next to the melting big ice, I met Nomi the first time. I was very impressed by her work and her personality. What a gift for the young photographer I was at that time; to meet an icon of photography like “Art of Seeing” Nomi Baumgartl.
About two years later, Nomi told me about her vision of shining icebergs in the arctic that are melting away so fast. Since I was working on a project in Germany with light painting, it was a perfect match. We started to develop a mutual idea that was far bigger than us.
Name: SERMERSUUP ILUANI, INSIDE THE BIG ICE
© 2012 Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq / Sven Nieder / Light Ambassadors: Adam Lyberth, Juliana Abrahamsen, Anguak Lennert, Laali Lyberth
Q: Aside from raising public awareness on the “fragility of the world of ice” and its environmental implications with respect to climate change, what were some of the other goals you hoped to achieve by executing and promoting this project?
S: My personal focus is creating a consciousness of how everything is connected. I was observing an iceberg that was floating around and changing. We all know that there is knowledge in the ice and that scientists dig into the ice to determine how the climate was thousands of years ago. In the mythology of Greenland’s people, the ice contains wisdom even while it is in the process of melting. While I was observing the iceberg I started picturing the journey of a molecule that is connected to this knowledge and wisdom, becoming water, turned by the sun to the sky, traveling with the wind around the world and ending up in someone’s coffee cup. This is the connection that we have to feel to change the world. This is the consciousness I want to create and express. Then I’m sure, everyone will do the right thing, which is not to harm others by misusing our planet. This is what we need – a deep consciousness of how everything is connected. We don’t point fingers and accuse. We just show the fragile beauty, and we truly believe that once we get that into the general consciousness, people will know what to do from their hearts. If we can affect one person in the world then it’s a success.
There’s an old saying passed down by Angaangaq’s grandmother Aanakasaa: “The longest distance we have to conquer in our lives is not from there to here, and not even from here to there, it’s from our mind to our heart.” This is a good meta-level summary of our project.
N: We didn’t just want to raise public awareness but to touch the hearts and strengthen the consciousness that everyone is part of all that is happening in the world. We cherish and protect what we know and love so that consciousness has consequences.
The Greenlanders themselves were light ambassadors and they really give all of their personal energy to help create this photo art. That’s what is so unique—the consciousness enveloping the entire project, where everyone can feel “I am part of it.” You are not separated from what’s happening the in the world—this is the essence of what we’re trying to achieve. As Nelson Mandela said, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” People feel that these pictures are unique – something you can’t buy, so in a concrete way we create value. The message came from the stars; we’re the people under the stars; we’re part of this universe.
Q: Many, if not all, of the breathtaking images in this portfolio were shot under conditions of extreme cold, with temperatures of -40 degrees C. at times. What still camera equipment did you use to capture these images and were any special procedure necessary such as winterizing the cameras, using special battery packs or protective coverings, etc.?
S: The light art images were taken exclusively with the Leica S-System. It’s very rugged and durable and we can shoot with amazing sharpness even at wide-open apertures. We had a few bodies with us and took them to the limits. The batteries were stored close to your bodies, so we had warm end fresh ones ready to change out. After the shoot, we wrapped everything waterproof to let the gear warm up slowly without resulting in condensation.
Name: IMARSUUP QAQQARSUI, MOUNTAINS OF THE SEA I
© 2012 Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq / Nomi Baumgartl / Light Ambassadors: Anaangaq, Aviaq Guldager, Lykke P. Kristoffersen, Else Marie S. Petersen, Reginald Guldager, Daisy Møller Petersen, Bror M. Petersen, Sascha P. Kristoffersen, Natasja P. Kristoffersen
Q: Since all these images were evidently shot in Greenland, did you have to set up camp in proximity to these locations, and if so, can you provide a brief description of what this entailed?
S: Laali’s excellent organizational abilities and her connection to the land and the people made it possible for us to reach remote places accompanied by locals. Greenland’s people have big hearts. They helped us immeasurably in capturing and preserving their fast changing country in images that are timeless icons. We were lucky to have a warm place to sleep every night since our base camps were in towns like Kangerlussuaq, Ilullisat, Maniitsoq and Nuuk. We went by boat, on foot and in Kangerlussuaq by car, to the places we photographed.
These folks know that life is dangerous and it’s so much a part of their daily lives. In Greenland, you really depend on each other and help each other. Once they understood what we were going to do and they understood that the message we had was important, and they helped us out in any way they could.
Q: Which lenses did you use to capture the still images in this portfolio? Did you generally shoot at wide, moderate, or stopped down apertures and what were the typical ISO settings you employed?
S: We used the whole range of S prime lenses that were available at the time, in particular the 30 mm, 35 mm, 70 mm, 120 mm, and 180 mm. If possible we tried to stay at ISO 160 using a wide-open aperture and long exposures.
Q: In some of the pictures of this expedition, it is clear that you often used large tripods with crutch-type legs to support the cameras. Also, there are short star trails in some of these images, indicating that they were time exposures. In general were these images short or long time exposures, and were any of them shot handheld? Were you able to handle and set the cameras while wearing heavy gloves or did you pre-set the controls before each shoot?
S: It took some training, but we got a feeling for the light and the situations very fast. The usual exposure times were between 30 seconds and two minutes. I used high ISO at first, to check the light and histogram, and then I calculated the right settings for a lower ISO. The gloves were filled with warming pads. I’d put my hands out, set the camera, shoot, then very quickly put my hands back into the gloves, coordinate light with walkie talkies and try to get the feeling of the icebergs and wait for two minutes for the exposure to finish and another two minutes for the camera’s noise reduction to be completed. If I calculated correctly and the “feeling” with the artificial light was good – we had the shot. You cannot measure the artificial light with light painting– you have to “feel out” how much light has been used. Most of the time we were only able to get two-three shots a night.
We also checked every landscape during the daytime so we could work fast at night. Eventually we acquired lots of hands-on experience so we knew what to do and how to set things up. Even with the best winter clothing you can feel the cold going up your legs, so you want to be fast with so many people freezing and waiting for the pictures.
Q: These images have been described as “light paintings,” a technique that typically entails moving a continuous light source over various parts of the subject during a time exposure. Can you identify which images were made this way? Also, since light painting is generally considered a form of artistic expression, is this at odds with your intention of providing viewers with a realistic impression of an environmental crisis, and how does it fit in with what you were trying to achieve?
S: It’s all light painting. And no; what we do is not realistic in the narrow sense. What we have is light, and light is an energy that we asked people in Greenland to shine in order to create this project. The happening itself is what is important. It’s artificial art if you will, showing the sublime beauty of this. We’re not telling people what to do, making a political or economic statement about climate change, or enlisting people to become part of a movement.
In the 1970s the shaman who traveled with us on the project went to the United Nations. He told the delegates and representatives that the ice in Greenland is melting.
Today, the people of Greenland say it’s too late to “save” the ice in Greenland. And since it’s climate change it represents a challenge. But the challenge is not to keep things as they are – things are inevitably changing. They’re now able to grow strawberries in some areas of Greenland, which was impossible until recently, and that’s a good thing. On the other hand, in Bangladesh there are now floods, which is bad news for the people that live there. Our aim is to “Melt the Ice in the Heart of Man”.
Q: Can I share with you a poem from Emily Dickinson?
N: Yes, you much include it in the interview!
Q: It’s called “Those Not Live Yet” by Emily Dickinson:
Those not live yet
Who doubt to live again—
“Again” is of a twice
But this—is one—
The Ship beneath the Draw
Death—so—the Hyphen of the
Deep is the Schedule
Of the Disk to be—
That is he—
Name: SERMIP INNAARLUA – CLIFF OF THE BIG ICE
© 2012 Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq / Nomi Baumgartl / Light Ambassadors: Adam Lyberth, Helena Eva Lyberth, Ursilla Poulsen, Tina Lyberth, Juliana Abrahamsen, Anguak Niko Lennert
Tech Data: Leica S, Summarit-S 35 mm, ISO 320, f/3.4, 60 seconds
Q: Like most of these images, this one is a spectacular otherworldly view; in this case of what looks like a truncated glacier. Despite the sweeping grandeur of the setting, to me it conveys the message that what once was complete is compromised and disappearing. Do you agree? And where was this picture taken and will you please provide the tech data including camera, lens, shooting aperture, ISO. etc.
N: Yes, the glacier is dying and we were there to honor it and to capture its fading beauty. It looks like a stunning scene of a vanishing world breaking into pieces of time. This scenery is taken at Russel Glacier, located close to Kangerlussuaq. This picture shows how we worked. On the left and the right side you see the people with the flashlights. There is a small red dot, which shows Sven Nieder while he’s taking the picture of Qitittut – Dancing Ancestors.
Name: SERMINNGUIT, THE TINY BERGS
© 2013 Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq /Nomi Baumgartl /Light Ambassadors:, Laila Andersen, Johanne Boassen, Emîle Reimer Mølgaard, Hansine Ari Poulsen Rasmussen, Ralf Johansen
Tech Data: Leica S, Summarit-S 70 mm, ISO 640, f/2.5, 8 seconds
Q: This image is masterfully composed and beautifully lit. Is this an example of light painting? Also, what do you think this image communicates to the viewer and what was the message you were trying to convey?
N: Absolutely. Ice jewels lost in the middle of a mystical landscape. In the background you can see footsteps in the snow, which symbolize the carbon footprints we leave on our planet.
Name: NUUNU, THE ONE TO BE BORN
© 2012 Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq/Sven Nieder & Nomi Baumgartl/Light Ambassador: Laali Lyberth
Tech Data: Leica S, Elmarit-S 30 mm, ISO 320, f.2.8, 60 seconds
Q: Some images almost look as though they were taken on another planet, but the iridescent green light in the sky is evidently the Aurora Borealis. Did you use any special techniques to get such compelling images of this elusive phenomenon, and how did you manage to achieve such exquisite image quality under those challenging conditions?
N: It really does look like from another planet. We drove into the fjord on a zodiac from the main ship. It was like landing on another star. In the night sky you can see the Pleiades star constellation. In the foreground is an ice sculpture shaped like a hatching egg. This picture is dedicated to Laali, who was light ambassador for this scene and her unborn child. She was eight months pregnant with Sven’s child during this expedition. Sven assisted me to capture this image because the conditions made it very hard to handle the technical details. This is the only image that we really took together.
S: There are no digital effects like HDR involved. The Leica S provides an excellent range of highlight and shadow detail and we worked specifically on the highlights with the flashlights. Later on, we developed the DNG-RAW files and tweaked the color, contrast and a did a little bit of partial darkening and lightening of different areas just as we did in the darkroom in analog times. It’s all done in one shot; there is no compositing involved, and every picture is a truly unique image.
Name: SERMIUP KUUA, RIVER OF ICE
© 2012 Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq/Sven Nieder/Light Ambassadors: Akaaraq, Ulloriaq Nielsen, Ole Kreutzmann; Tech Data: Leica S, Summarit-S 70 mm, ISO 160, f/2.5, 125 seconds
Q: This image is very spare and compelling—a narrow stream of ice between two dark hills with star trails in a murky purplish sky. How did you manage top achieve such amazing highlight and shadow detail in a single image? Also did you use HDR mode or any post-production enhancement to achieve this stunning effect for this image, or for any of the other images in this portfolio?
N: All of the technical details are important of course, but the inside secret is that the people understand. This is the language of the heart. All these details are important, but it’s the project that conveys message. This message has to go out. The light has to spread to into the world – that is my wish, and it’s something that’s really unique.
“We are all an integrated part of nature, a part of the universe.” This quote by Andreas Feininger – it’s this understanding. We are all stardust in the end. To live in this wonderful planet earth, this is the gift for every human. That is consciousness.
All the old cultures – Eskimos, Indians – they live with an abiding respect for nature. Without this respect they couldn’t survive. And we think now, as scientists, we can provide the knowledge. Yes, we can provide the knowledge but we need the wisdom. This is the message beyond this project and it’s very, very important. I’m very thankful for this inner vision – and it came from my heart, not my mind. The name – the North Star illuminated it – that’s where the name came from. All of these people who are involved in this project that’s so unique, we internalized it and played out the content of the message.
It’s something that we must understand with our hearts and minds. You can make a perfect picture and it can say nothing-we made beautiful but imperfect pictures that say everything That’s what makes it so unique. Now we’re here in Los Angeles hanging the pictures for the Leica world premiere. We gave everything into this project. It’s very idealistic. Thank you to Mother Earth who is carrying us.
S: Here again the wide brightness range that can be captured on the Leica S-System comes into play, and we also had to draw on every bit of our experience to get the right exposure and balance. The light ambassadors were shining their flashlights from a boat in the fjord while we were set up about 2 km away on land. This is close to Maniitsoq at Maniitsup Sermilia where the Greenland sky is free from light pollution. Some moving clouds, combined with the stars and a little northern lights provided this fantastic color. We planned the picture properly in the daytime and waited exactly for the right light situation. The main post-production work was done with the RAW file the way we would have done it in an analog lab, too. No special manipulation like HDR is involved.
Q: Have you published these images online, exhibited them in galleries or collected them into a print or online book? In other words, how have you made the spectacular images available to the general public, and which organizations other than Leica have promoted and published them?
S: There has been a preview exhibition at the Umweltfotofestival, a small show at the Leica Erlebnistage in Wetzlar and a private exhibition in Kitzbühel. The real world premiere with the book presentation and photo art is at the Leica Gallery in Los Angeles, which opens on December 13.
We are working closely with Hahnemühle – they have shown the picture “Qitittut“ at the Photokina 2014 and supported us as much as Reisenthel and Led Lenser did.
Q: Do you plan on continuing this project in Greenland going forward, or shooting similar images of ice in other polar locations? Are your interests and endeavors limited solely on retreating ice and its environmental implications or will you also be addressing other visually compelling evidence of global climate change?
N: We just finished phase one of this project under very challenging conditions. These images now have to make their way into the world and shine. These images were produced at the highest international quality standards of the photographic art. It will be our effort in the coming months to refinance the project. Ten percent of the sales will be donated to Aanakasaap Illua, a healing and prevention clinic in Greenland. We want to build a bridge of awareness between art, culture, and science. Then we can go on to thinking about new projects.
S: If you could see the huge enlargements of these images now on display you’d be very impressed with what the Leica S-System can do. Even the staff are impressed what has been done with their cameras. This was probably the hardest test for the S-System to date, and it came through with flying colors.
Thank you for your time Sven and Nomi!
– Leica Internet Team
To know more about Nomi Baumgartl, please visit her official website.
Learn more about Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq on its website and, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Watch a video on it here. Visit the exhibition at the Leica Gallery Los Angeles starting December 13 and running through January 25, 2015.
A special thank you goes out to all the Light Ambassadors who helped on this project: