Simon Roberts: Welcome to the Arctic rush hour
Sunday 30 January 2011
It's 9am on a dark and frosty mid-winter morning in Murmansk, the largest city north of the Arctic Circle. As a clutch of commuters trudge across a snow-caked railway footbridge, the sun remains trapped below the horizon in a perpetual, blue-tinged dusk. "It's part of a phenomenon the Russians call polyarnye nochi, or polar nights," explains British photographer Simon Roberts, who spent a year travelling across one of the world's coldest countries. "From December until mid-January, this region is shrouded in darkness, except for a faint glow of light around midday." Accompanying the gloom are temperatures that reach as low as -40C, the point at which skin freezes.
It's a far cry from the short, sharp winter flurries that cripple the UK for a few days each winter: a third of Russia's population lives in a subarctic climate, and as a result these vast tracts of brutal, icy beauty are threaded into the fabric of that nation's art, literature and psyche. "So much of being Russian is the endurance of the harsh, bleak winter," adds Roberts. "There's this idea that you have to go through this rite of passage, and by doing so, it makes you stronger."
Hardy yes, but not foolish: outdoor activity during this period is kept to a bare minimum. "It felt like I was inhabiting a parallel universe of emptiness," muses Roberts. "Mostly I never saw anybody, just references of people, and I found it very isolating." A few burning lights flickering in apartments way off in the distance, a lonely set of snowy footprints in the ground. But for Roberts, this was not just a portrait of cities in a state of near-hibernation, but a study of how a thick covering of snow amid the eerie blue-hued light could transform the harshest of Russian industrial facilities into something beautiful. "Suddenly, there was a majesty to these structures, a surreal enchanting edge to them."
Simon Roberts' exhibition Polyarnye Nochi is at DMB Gallery, London SE1 (0203 142 6679, dmbmedia.co.uk/space), to 11 March
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 David Cameron refers to 83-year-old Labour MP Dennis Skinner as 'Jurassic Park'
- 2 iPhone 7 (or iPhone 6S) leaked pictures show similarities to older model — but Apple is fixing the biggest issue of all
- 3 Russell Brand condemns moment of silence for Tunisia attack victims as 'minute of bulls**t'
- 4 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 5 Alwaleed bin Talal: Saudi Prince to donate entire $32bn fortune to charity
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Amy, film review: Beautiful film reveals ugly truth behind singer's downward spiral
'Dukes of Hazzard' pulled from screens by CBS as outcry over Confederate flag grows
London Has Fallen trailer release branded 'extremely insensitive' ahead of 10th anniversary of 7/7 bombings
What if Nicolas Cage played every character in Game of Thrones?
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert