Working as a Global Citizen

The more assignments I take on the East Coast, the more I’ve been thinking, “Why not just live here year round?”

On yet another escapade to the East Coast for a few freelance photo jobs, I’ve started to scope out the real estate scene in NYC from Astoria (Queens) to Brooklyn to the unobtainable Manhattan rent prices. What I’ve come to learn is that finding an apartment does not happen over night…

While I flip-flop in search of a place to call home, I was lucky enough to partner with citizenM hotels and take refuge in their Manhattan location for a few days while I gained my bearings and endured a very unexpected blizzard as well! citizenM & I exchanged tales of my experiences in Manhattan and discovered how their location is prime for visiting artists and art enthusiasts like me.

You might think Midtown is too bustling and central of a location for you to rest, but after working with citizenM, I can say I was lifted out and above the spectacle of Manhattan and had my own apartment to breathe. 

 

Waking up in Midtown already put me at the center of every direction I would need to go. Whether I was visiting friends in Brooklyn, photographing in the East Village, or exploring Central Park, nothing was out of reach for me. I was at a spot where almost any major train is within a few blocks, which made cutting through Manhattan a breeze. An added bonus was having MoMA down the street filled with one of the world's greatest collection of artist books, which I visited twice because I had so much to see.

And then the blizzard loomed... Not so surprisingly, the city refused to come to a complete pause, despite the rising snow. Though driving was discouraged, no one could stop the other 'citizens' and I as we ventured in and out of our Midtown fortress to take a quick dive in the snow mounds, before retreating back inside. Nothing quite like coming in from the snow and watching it fall with a cup of coffee. 

Thankfully, this blizzard gave me an excuse to have a bit of time for myself and kickback while working from the perches all over the hotel, high and low. It reminded me I should kick-back and relax more often! 

citizenM is originally a Dutch company and they have locations all over the world... I hope to work with them again when I'm on my next project abroad!  

Where will I wake up tomorrow?

Where will I wake up tomorrow?

Freitag x Vasilko Feature

Very excited to see my feature on Freitag's website this week! When Freitag originally heard word that I would be traveling to Norway to research and document the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, they jumped at the chance to help me make the trip possible. Their gear carried me through some rough terrains and I'm thrilled I could take their products to places it has never been before. Check out the feature here: https://www.freitag.ch/en/svalbard

Side note: Something that didn't receive as much attention was my short residency at Zoku Amsterdam, a new hotel aimed towards global entrepreneurs. I alongside the Zoku marketing team flagshipped a Zoku Artist in Residence program. Starting from my long-shot of a proposal in which I suggested free living in exchange for bringing photo & design skill into the Zoku branding, we created a program that will continue to host artists from around the world. In return for using their talent to beautify Zoku and spread the Zoku idea of gathering and exchanging ideas between global guests, artists will be given the space to pursue their own creative endeavors in Amsterdam. 

You never know where you'll end up in a week's time.

  • 9AM: Phone of a sleepy freelance photographer rings 
  • Freelance photographer shuts phone off; 9AM is too early for him
  • 9:30AM: Phone rings again
  • With a few grunts, freelance photographer aggressively silences his phone again.
  • 10AM: Phone rings once more
  • Finally, freelance photographer answers:
    •  "HELLO, WHAT?"
  • Startled by the aggression, caller explains the urgency.
    • "What would you say if you & I went to Paris next week, Lucas..."  

And so, little did I expect at 10 in the morning one a week ago from today, I found out I would be traveling to Paris, all expenses paid. *cue falling to the ground* 

My friend Nik, pictured ominously above, runs a small design studio, Nikolas Bentel Studio. What he had just been informed before making that surprising call to me was that one of his former projects had been selected to feature in a collective designer show at Paris Fashion Week 2017... and the show was happening in 5 days! 

Before I knew it, my e-ticket was in my inbox and we were en route.  

The group show, Prototype, culminated the works of 6 speculative designers who each conceived clothing designs thinking towards a drastically different, yet not so implausible, future. The show was co-sponsored by the upcoming movie Ghost in the Shell, which depicts a future of computer robotic advances and cyber threats, starring Scarlett Johansson.

All 6 featured designers' works.

Nik's project revolves around the idea of an increasing presence of pollution in our atmosphere and developing a line of clothing that can react and alert you to the level of pollutants in the air. Though his project still rests in the conceptual phase, he created prototype designs and a video demonstrating how the clothing reacts visually to various airborne pollutants.

Though our trip was quick.. like 3 days quick.. we squeezed in more than our fair share of excursions, including le Musée Rodin, la Sainte Chapelle, and le Palais de Tokyo. It was hilarious and humbling to see Nik outside of the typical setting that we have always known each other in; showing him around a city that, though I cannot call it a second home, exudes all the reasons I'm proud to be French. 

Congrats, ol' chap! 

Lost & Found Pieces Coming Together

I often allow images and other content to stew & sit out-of-mind for a while, offering some time for reflection before drawing final conclusions about what the content conveys. I recently came across a short 9 second video on my phone that captured the accumulation of rain & melting ice waters at a time when Svalbard should have been well into its winter weather patterns. But as a changing climate looms, areas like Svalbard are some of the most drastically impacted. For me, this clip is a powerful memory from my time in Svalbard. 

I'm thinking of how stills or textures from this video could serve as a possible design element moving forward. At the time, I didn't think anything of this video, but now it may end up playing a role after all. It goes to show you never know what you will and will not use when out in the field gathering content & material.  

If I ever am fortunate enough to return to Svalbard for a longer period of time, I'm thinking a series of smaller videos of that paths from running waters could make a powerful blend if they were displayed in sequence or several videos displayed at once.  

Going into Svalbard, I was so focused on the one entity of the Vault that I didn't foresee how many other moving parts to the region were all in sync with each other; if one part fails, then so does the Vault. Rising temperatures and increases in rain pose a threat to the Vault and the ecosystem of the island. I'm excited to tell the story of the island and arriving at the doors of the Vault amidst an unknown and unsure landscape. 

 

 

I'm also starting to think about possible type faces that I can use to write the introductory text and explanation of how I came to find myself in Svalbard in the first place. I sorted out images from the Island that had peculiar and striking text examples, but also text that derives from places integral to the history of Svalbard's. The following four images are from the coal mines of Svalbard, which were the main reason people came to settle there. 

Here's a peak into part of the layout map that I think only I can read.. might look like a chopped up mess, but this thing is a very useful sequencing cheat-sheet for me as I connect image to image. 

As a side note, my good friend Philipp from Svalbard has been bringing his Svalbard guiding business to fruition, and I'd love to help him get the word out farther. If you're looking not only for a one of a kind adventure of intense hikes or husky sledding expeditions, I would tell you that you have to go to Svalbard and my man Philipp is the guy to give you a personal and extraordinary guided adventure. Check him out & get to planning a trip you won't regret. So lucky to have met him, and I can't wait until I get to go back! Here is his site:   

https://polardogssvalbard.com/about/

Pocket Sized

As a preliminary experiment with my images from Svalbard & the Global Seed Vault, I fastened miniature booklets conveying an eleven image sequence of the Vault and its presence within the larger landscape. I'm thinking about which influences which, the Vault vs. everything that surrounds it. Though it may be just a small gash in the mountain side, everything that lies within the Vault has the power to influence a global landscape. In the overall scheme, it feels like the Vault and it's landscape are in a constant flux of protection and power. 

Where have you been, Mister??

I bet you thought you were done with me, huh? Well, think again!!  I'm back, out of hiding, and here to cook up all sorts of treats from my trip to Svalbard & the Global Seed Vault. I may have made a pit stop or two.. or three.. before returning home, but now it's time to start of the fire and head to the studio! 

My head is pulsing with memories not only from the Seed Vault and everyone I met in Svalbard, but from the exhibits, artists, bookstores, and sights throughout Scandinavia that have inevitably affected how I want to approach not just my Svalbard book, but future projects as well. As you see below, my studio tables, floors, and just about any vacant flat surface are covered in small test prints to help me see connections between images that I might not realize from simply looking at them on a computer screen. Move an image here, swap some from left to far right, overlay a few and then realize it looks ridiculous and put them all back, and then try again... that's how it goes and what the next few days will consist of. Before I think about structure, I've got to think about story & sequence; my three "S" policy, if you will.  

Though I'm still coping through the mental headache of sequencing and establishing a book of the Seed Vault and its relation to the landscape, I've begun to give myself exercises in experimenting how the images can possibly coexist with each other. The first experiment is taking form in a 12 image accordion narrative that navigates in and out from the front doors of the Vault to the greater region of Svalbard; where the images take place in proximity to each other isn't so much the focus, more so its the rich array of color, texture, and echo of the region where the Vault resides.

Through the chaos of unpredicted warming temperatures at the time of my visit to Svalbard and how future occurrences of this warming climate might affect Svalbard, I'm definitely going to heighten the theme of a landscape in distress and confusion in the final product. Navigating through Svalbard, taking you on a blind pursuit..

If you're viewing this on a mobile device, rotate horizontally to get the full width & effect of the images:

Behold the template image that I'll carve my first set of experiments out of... 

You Know Me Well, Zoku

For weeks I had been meaning to buy a pair of scissors along one of the stops on my trip. It sounds like no big deal, but it had been on the back burner of my mind for weeks. From Svalbard, to Oslo, to Copenhagen, I needed a damn pair of scissors to work into a few scraps of ideas as I slowly plan towards my book for the Global Seed Vault. This was one of those things you'd never need when abroad, but of course I find myself in constant demands of the trivialities that your typical traveler does not. A "photographer" *cringe,* an "artist" *rolls eyes,* but most of all an excess baggage traveler *large sigh* is how I see myself every time I leave the house, let alone the country. I'm that guy with a backpack heavier than his own weight, always cramming just one more thing into the overhead bin because god forbid I check a bag and share the space. And I needed a pair scissors once and for all. 

After weeks of bed hopping from the Arctic, to Oslo, the countryside of Norway, and then Copenhagen, I finally found relief and comfort at Zoku.. but most of all, a pair of scissors waiting for me in my room!! With no prior request, Zoku Lofts was the place prepared for that traveler like me, someone always in need of the extraneous tools to spur a bit more of unpredictable creativity forward. 

Zoku, because 99% chance says you haven't been there (yet 😉) is a start up hotel in the city skies of Amsterdam. Located at the top of a building overlook away from the hectic city center, more and more visitors, entrepreneurs and designers are learning to live Zoku. Let me explain how one achieves this: 

Hop on a plane, have an idea, any idea of a project or business plan or rock star dream or just a desire to meet other rising creatives, and head to Zoku. Their mission statement is simple but all the while powerful: to mix together like-minded individuals under one roof – aligning international guests with internationally minded locals.

Here, I had the time and space to not only hunt down one or two.. or three or four more artist book venues around the city, but I finally had a space to bring it all back to and very literally lay it out on the table and think to myself: what can I learn from the rising Euro artist book culture. 

The staff at Zoku really encourages the entire hotel to feel like your home, with a sense of 8 or 9 unique living room and dining spaces all joined together. This led me to meet a diverse but equally passionate group of people all working towards projects they believe in and want to share. 

During my stay, I worked with Zoku to explore and feature the group of spots and shops that I experienced as one of a kind to Amsterdam and the incredible mix of old and new pushing up against one another. 

Check out the list below, and put some thought towards Zoku if you're ever in town. Hell, I'll go with you!

Wildernis

A local plant shoppe & café overflowing with peculiar plants and tools for personalizing any space to accommodate an abundance of greenery. Though it may only be two years old, it seemed to me that this is going to be one of those stores that will become a cornerstone of the neighborhood as the years pass. 

Bar Botanique

Café by day, bar by night, Bar Botanique is a contemporary  tropical setting far off the beaten path from tourists. It offers the relaxing vibes we all dream of when wanting to kick back under the palms within a city. 

Retro & Chic

One of the most tastefully curated vintage clothing stores that I have come across, and I'm not just speaking in terms of Amsterdam. Retro & Chic wasn't on any of the travel blogs that I researched beforehand, which maybe explains why it felt like such a hidden gem and discovery to me. I admired the owner's, Kim Laura de Jong, story behind her shop: coming from parents who had their own problems-turned-obsessions with hoarding.  As she learned to hoard hand-crafted items of her travels and her country, the owner eventually turned the habit her parents left her with and channeled it into a consistently excellent and unique shop that is celebrating it's 12th year. Right before I left, Kim exhaled in saying, "It's nice being able to make a living out of something you love."

Loekie Delicatessen

I think befriending a fromager in every city should be in the go-to travel rulebook. Loekie is fromagerie running on its fourth decade in Amsterdam, passed down onto it's third generation of the original owner. Though much of Amsterdam may feel like its changing to accommodate the spike in tourism and the city's transition into a global market, places like Loekie maintain the memory and charm of historic Amsterdam. 

Rik Van Houten

It might look like Rik Van Houten has held its ground in Amsterdam for decades but the shop is actually only on it's second year in business. Before it's time, this space used to be a knife shop. When Rik bought the space, some of the equipment left behind proved useful, but it certainly required time to make the store into what it is today. "It took a lot when getting started, but now the shop is bringing in visitors and customers from around the world."

Huis Marseille

Yes, you have your fair share of options when it comes to museums in Amsterdam, yet Huis Marseille certainly cried out to me as one of the most unique to the city. Featuring rising dutch contemporary photographers, this space cultivates a strong sense of Dutch aesthetics and stores an incredible library/store of photography artist books of local and global photographers. You feel like you can get lost in the narrow but tall space that feels as if it escalates to four or five or six levels of gallery spaces.. you leave not sure if you in fact found all the levels that this museum offers. 

Reunion in Køpenhavn

It was up to me to defend the honor and pride of my friends in Norway and Denmark, answering to which country will reign superior. The more I spoke with Norwegians and Danes, the quicker it became obvious that these two have some issues to overcome, but it was fun to watch them diss each other nonetheless! 

Ever since the recent oil discovery and subsequent wealth that has skyrocketed Norway's economy (a discovery that the Danes had searched for themselves in vain), it simply ruptured the already simmering tensions between the two. Whether it be language, look, cities, demeanor, wealth, and all else that neighboring nations can dispute over, these two countries seems to have a lot of beef for being in one of the supposedly " happiest" ranked regions on Earth. 

*side note* I met a Swede in Denmark and he was upset that I wasn't going to experience Sweden and its role in the Scandinavia trilogy. I explained that if I had a friend or a freelance job there, I would run towards Stockholm in a flash. Had to make sure I put it out there that I'm well aware of Sweden and its own role in the spat for Scandinavian national pride. Next time.. 

Anyways, when I arrived in Copenhagen, the Danes already had the upper hand over Oslo simply because an old friend of mine, Mikkel, lived there. With the help from a local, the city didn't feel daunting or intimidating at all. I knew with Mikkel's help, I was able to see into corners of the city that your average tourist would never find, thank God. 

Speaking of the Lord, as I hinted to in my last post, my friend Mikkel has begun his education towards priesthood. If you know Mikkel, you'll know he can be just as blunt and fierce and at times... umm, well, non-priest like..  ;) but he has the passion and faith that is already getting his name out into the local churches that will hopefully admit him after university. Studying theology at the University of Copenhagen, he still has 6 more years between completing his current studies and practicing the courses and lessons one needs to be admitted as an official priest of the Church. Though, with the governments generosity towards its university students (they literally pay you to go to school) I'm sure it won't be as stressful and worrisome of an experience like so many of us had/have in the States..

Not just education, but the entire city/state system in Denmark is everything that we imagine it to be, looking much more after the people and less at individual wealth. And in a city as beautiful as theirs, it made it hard to leave. 

So, to answer the present day age-old question of who beats who in the Scandinavian pride, well, I can't say for sure! You'll have to jet-set to here and judge on your own. 

Final destination: Amsterdam. Not sure why it took my 22 years to final depart to this city, but I'm sure ready. 

I Found Jesus in Oslo... And A Whole Lot More!

Upon walking into my Airbnb in Oslo, I was surprised to come across Jesus as one of the first people I met! Though my Airbnb family is not so much the religious type, their apartment is adorned with peculiar finds  in the oddest of places, which is probably why Jesus didn't feel too out of place in the overall scheme of things. He has been posted above bed, watching me pile one too many artist books and Norwegian wool sweaters into a suitcase that was already filled to the brim with my winter clothing from Svalbard. It's a secret between me & him & Oslo. 

When it came to exploring the city, I didn't have many expectations. It happened to be one of those cities where I knew of no contacts or friends with previous travel experience. From what I've come to understand, Oslo has had a massive turn in recent economic growth that led to many new opportunities to reinvigorate the city. Other than the artist book stores and gallery openings that I had bookmarked, I wanted to find a few more local treasures and places to get a better sense of the growing city. I've loved having the chance to relax and simply watch the city go by and soak in what it feels like to be a city Norwegian. These people know how to have a good time, and not work too much! 

Scroll down to see some sweet sights and hopefully it'll get you thinking about coming to explore Norway and Scandinavia as a whole on your own! 

I'm off next to Denmark so I can catch up with an old friend, Mikkel. And as fate would have it, he is studying to become a priest in Copenhagen, so it looks like Jesus and I will cross paths again soon. Until then! 

Vigelandsparken

Well... I think this spot sums up Oslo's out of the ordinary and lovable personality. This unique sculpture park is Gustav Vigeland's lifework of more than two hundred sculptures. The layout and installation of the park was completed in 1949, making this a pastime for Norwegians to visit ands stroll through ever since. 

How I feel all the time. 

Ekebergparken

This had been at the top of my list of places to visit ever since I left for this trip. Ekebergparken has over 3km of trails that take you in and out of the local woods and open fields, scattered with sculptures and installations that span 130 years of European history, from our contemporary period and back. A clear favorite of mine was Dan Graham's Ekeberg Pavillon

Oslo at Large 

Take a view into my sights and sees along the way as Oslo began to feel much more  like a home than a host. 

Man down. 

THE art store, Kem. 

5PM rush hour. 

Ode to the Country Life

This past Friday, I attended the opening of a new exhibition at Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo. Over the course of the proceeding weekend, I couldn't stop thinking about one of the exhibiting artists, Ester Fleckner, and her words: 

 

Relation. You talk in a way that I don't know but that I'm missing. You talk about belonging differently. I bike through the city with my eyes closed or almost. I think about images one can recognize oneself in or not. I think about family trees and having read that it demands synchronicity with the patterns and rhythms of a place to feel that one belongs. I want have a relation to you and understand that we already have one. 

 

As chance would have it, I spent that weekend navigating a small town in southern Norway with longtime family friends of my mother that I had never met before. Amongst these new strangers now turned friends, I realized so many of the things that we've shared all along. Not just our hobbies or how we take our coffee in the morning, but the things like the type of humor we draw from and the details in a home that make us both feel like we belong. A friend of a family is someone who can show up out of the blue and proceed as if it has always been like old times... 

This certainly was one of those times, which made for the perfect weekend. 

Basking in Contemporary Norwegian Aesthetics

My main goal while here in Oslo is to grab a better sense of the Norwegian contemporary artist book culture. Hopefully, I'll be able to bring in some of their aesthetics that parallel what I would like to convey in my artist book for the Global Seed Vault. It's really important for me that I get a feeling for not only being a witness to the Vault, but also the sense of what it's like to be an artist in Norway. 

Over the past five or six years in Oslo, as well as other cities in Norway, such as Bergen and Tromsø, the artist book culture has quickly accelerated and inspired a chain of small publishing houses and gallery spaces to welcome the growing pulse of talent. I had heard of this recent spike in Norwegian artist book culture through sources at one of the United Sates' biggest artist book and zine distributers, Printed Matter, so I knew this wasn't all just a bunch of talk! 

All of these printing presses and design studios, a few of my favorites being Torpedo Press, Melk Galleri, and Hordaland Kunstsenter, are here to preserve and augment the artist-led mediation of visual art communication through bookmaking. 

If I'm lucky, I'll be able to carry some of my favorite books all the way home without breaking the bank, or my back...

Vasilko-blog-143.jpg

Artist Feature: Dyveke Sanne

One very fortunate artist will have their work stand the test of time alongside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. As I discovered more about Norwegian law, I learned there must exist some sort of public art collaboration when the government invests a significant financial sum into a project. For the Vault, it was going to have to be an artwork that could endure the rigorous climate.

Dyveke Sanne's work Perpetual Repercussion has become the glowing beacon that calls visitors from below up to the front doors of the Vault. I was transfixed by it's glowing light before I even began to realize the overall structure and form of the Vault itself. Since the Vault is built high into a mountainside, the light is what you stare up to as the road winds around the mountain bends and you inch closer and closer to the Vault. The soft cyan haze settles onto the surrounding landscape day and night. Though I was not lucky enough to be in Svalbard when the Northern Lights are out and at their strongest, I know Sanne's installation is meant to compliment and mimic the true colors of the Northern Lights as they rush overhead.

At first, I didn't realize an artist was commissioned for this specific portion of the Vault, which is why I wanted to make sure I gave her this small shout out and wish her a job well done. 

Several Faces of Svalbard

To clear your mind, you're always told to go on a walk. And when you're in a foul mood, you're told to take a hike! Well, in order for my mind to think a bit more clearly on how to adapt my project, I took to the mountains again with my hiking guiding angel, Philipp. It may be an age old cliché, but I really did need some time outdoors to step back and think about things from a fresh perspective. 

I think you begin to get a lot wiser, at the very least practical, the more time you spend away from a routined schedule. Philipp has been guiding for years now in Sweden and more recently in Svalbard, which explains how it is so easy for him to talk me through my own cloud of frustrations, not to mention all the things he is currently dealing with. The vast majority of issues become fairly minor when you accept you can't change the day to day hurdles that arise. In the end, all he seems to really need are his dogs, a sled,  and ideally a few feet of snow. That's the good stuff right there. 

Someone else who has and will continue to have a role in my project is the man who helped get me here. His name is Åsmund. What he is doing with the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre is some of the most fascinating work that, until very recently, I had never considered its importance in my own life. Having an archive of crop diversity amongst similar strains of the world's most vital crops will guarantee food security for the changes and fluctuations in our future climates. Take a peak at the hand delivery of seeds to Åsmund at the local airport, as well as a snapshot of one of the film crews interviewing the Norwegian property management representative as she explains the temporary lock-down of the Vault. 

And when in doubt about what to do next, go on a Norwegian mining tour. Why not! Svalbard was originally colonized for its coal potential in the early 1900's. Over the course of a few decades, power transferred between American, Norwegian, and Russian hands. It was a constant give and take of desire and monetary value for all three countries. I took an afternoon with a group of Norwegian engineering students to learn about the various progression and decline of mines across Longyearbyen.  I was the only native english speaker on the tour, so the whole tour had to be conducted in English for me... ah well for the Norwegians! They might speak english very well, doesn't mean they enjoyed it on the whole tour.  :0

The Silver Lining on Doomsday

I have some disappointing news due to a turn of events in Svalbard that couldn't have been foreseen (it's nothing health related, just to get that thought out of the way), but I also wanted to counter balance my recent run-in of disappointment with all the amazing things I have accomplished so far and what I can hopefully pursue in my remaining time here.  Start reading which ever column you would like, we've got the good and bad sides of life to deal with here; good on the left, bad on the right. (If you're viewing this on a mobile device, the good news column will appear above the bad news. I thought that was the best symbolic way of formatting it since mobile devices can't view columns through this webpage design.)

Optimistic Side of Life

The best way to counteract the disappointing news I received about the Vault was for me to step back and consider all the amazing places I have had access to, the people I've been lucky to meet, and the networks that I'm excited to maintain and grow overtime. Not to mention, with this change of events at the Vault that I and other visiting artists now have to deal with, I am already thinking of new ways to format and tell a story about the Vault through my future book(s).  

Let's overview why Svalbard has already been so enriching:

First off, the obvious: I made it to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault! That in itself is insane.. I had an image of this place pinned up in my studio at RISD until the end of school and I never thought I would suddenly be in Svalbard walking around the Vault.  

It's a bit like what you would imagine a frozen Mars to be like, with all the mountains covered in the perfect skipping stone rocks, black ice, and odd foreign structures that look like something NASA had misplaced. *Side note: NASA actually has a satellite base here constantly broadcasting and monitoring outer space.*

I spent hours on hours mediating with the Vault as I filled my memory cards with images that convey notions of landscape obstruction. My original proposal revolved around this dichotomy of obstruction and preservation, exploring how the Vault is a back-up for the damages that could come to global crop life in the future, in large part caused by ourselves. With no longer the chance for interior shots of the Vault, I'm working with new ways to portray injury to landscape and the difficulties to protect it. 

Next on my thankfuls list was the chance to have met a tour guide named Phillipp Bergau who recently started his own husky sled and hiking tour company. @svalbardpolardogs

Though I didn't know it beforehand, he would be one of the most helpful people in showing me true Svalbard. Check out the small gallery of photos below from our first hike. Our next trek is in a few days! 

I've also met the oddest and greatest grouping of researchers, writers, photographers, explorers, and students that all fall into the one category of having a love for polar research, in all its forms. In fact, if you are interested in anything at all pertaining to polar research, this place is perfect for you. The Svalbard University offers amazing programs if you want to live a life of polar love. The museum located within the University is also adorably small but incredible with details. 

Because only in the Svalbard Museum can you read on a bed of pelts. 

So yes, Svalbard has been more helpful to me than I could have imagined. I'm pretty sure I can speak for the other visiting artists and writers that are here with me when I say we will all be walking away with content that, although may be different from what we expected coming in, we will surely find new ways to work with it.

The Sad News at Svalbard

I've been holding back some bad news for a few days now, only because it takes me a while to consider the gravity of an incident when something goes off course for the worse. Case and point, there were severe mechanical problems within the Vault that have now halted access to the inside. At first, I was very angry how this sudden course of events changed. Taking a long and patient step back, though, I've come to realize I really can't place my anger towards anyone. I ask you get to the end of this post and know that I think this project will work out in the end...  an end that will happen much later than I originally planned. Who knows, maybe I was meant to be here to see this malfunction that occurred due to climate instability. 

I'll try to simply explain what exactly went wrong, how it happened, and why It's only bad luck (and climate change) to blame. 

  1. A record amount of rain fell onto Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the exact Friday that I and other invited guests flew in; it continued to pour through the weekend. Snow is supposed to have covered the ground by late October in Svalbard, never rain. This quantity of rain was unheard of. 
  2. The Vault, never designed for such high levels of rain because it has never had this much in excess in the region before, took in a significant amount of the water. The water went down one of the core tunnels of the Vault and made its way down the electricity corridor. 
  3. I was postponed a few days from entering the Vault, or even getting near it, because of this temporary problem, as my contact for the resource center had told me. I wasn't worried.
  4. My contact works for the resource center that maintains and monitors the seeds, but it is the government (not my contact's agency) that has final power and oversight of the upkeep for the Vault. He was not told by a government representative that the overall problem within the Vault was worse than what everyone had originally thought. 
  5. We were told that the Vault (which is a multi-million dollar investment for the Kingdom of Norway) had been flooded enough to fry the electrical system that provides the power down the 85 meter core tunnel to the seed chambers, power for all the lighting down the tunnel, power for the back-up cooling units at the base of the Vault, and power for climate monitoring devices within the Vault. 
  6. The local government branch on the Island responded immediately and prevented any damage to the seed chambers, while trying to make sure coolness levels did not change. However, the entire facility (built down into the depths of a mountain) is now pitch black and has ongoing electrical repairs, making the facility a hazard to any visitor who would be at a great risk of electrical shock, icy slips, or run-ins with construction equipment in the near dark, as we were told. And again, this is a huge investment for the government, not to mention all the countries around the world who contributed seeds, which is why they are taking it seriously before heavy winter arrives.
  7. I, another photographer from Estonia, 6 journalists from Sweden and Japan, a book author from Brooklyn and a Brazilian researcher all came here to eventually have access to this facility that pertains to our work in different ways. This access inside will not be able to happen for several weeks, maybe months, as nothing has been finalized and the buildings electrical power source is going to have to be reallocated to a different part of the building to prevent this from happening again. We are all allowed interviews and access to the exterior of the Vault, but the interior will have to wait. 
  8. The Vault was built nearly 8 years ago. This is the first time in those 8 years that a problem like this has caused a shutdown. The fact that it happened on the last scheduled period of the year when the Vault opens for researchers could not have come at a worse time. This all started the day I and other invitees to the Vault so happen to have come from around the World. 

"What possible silver lining could you see in this," you definitely are shouting at your screen right now. 

Well, it took me a few days, hikes, and solitude to try to navigate this all out. Many of us visiting artists came to the conclusion that this should be another wake up call for the future.

What really dawned on me came from my new friend Phillipp who lives and works out in the tundra of the region. "Besides your own issues with the situation. you can clearly see that this northern world is going to shit man... it was supposed to be a doomsday vault, safe from all elements, even nuclear strikes..."

He was right. This facility was built as a global backup for crop life biodiversity and conservation. It is supposed to stand the test of time, of elements, of human-driven destruction... and yet, due to unheard of weather patterns that had not been considered in the design of the entryway to this bunker, the Vault is now wounded. If this failsafe in the mountains of the Arctic is not prepared to address climate change, how could the rest of the world be ready? The poetics and irony of global warming affecting the Vault are all too real and too present to go untold. 

I will eventually be looking for a grant or fellowship in the future to bring me back here for some of the images I didn't get around to this time. 

Until then, I am going to take the content I have now and see what I can fold it into... there's definitely a story brewing here. And again, I still have exterior imagery and content from around the Island, so I ain't walking away empty handed. This new plot twist is only going to spin me forward, now at a new pace.  

Now everyone, let's stare off into the distance together and breathe slowly. 

A Fella and a Vault

Take a peek into what I've been scoping out around at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and its neighboring mountain ranges. So far, I'm trying out a few different approaches to the images seeing as the book will be a "pathway" of different textures, details, abstractions, and a bit of snapshot imagery; it will be more so a puzzle than anything else. In my original proposal, I said the book will be my interpretation of how the Vault is an obstruction to an otherwise unperturbed landscape; this obstruction, however, is  small price to pay for potential global landscape restoration. 

 They layout of the book will be what it takes to tie together the breadcrumb trail of photos. The start of page spread designs will begin once I leave for Oslo. 

"I'll bring us a gun and hot water for tea."

I think the title to this post says it all in terms of just how bizarre it is to suddenly be here in Svalbard and to start thinking like a local in terms of the rules you've got to abide by. The quote from the title of this post came about on day 2 when I learned that the polar bear to human ratio is 3:2 across Svalbard and that guns help scare away the bears if you happen to cross paths with one. Lucky for me, I have a guide for my time here, gun and all. This guide also so happens to love bringing hot tea everywhere, so it's a win win for safety and warmth. Here is a list of the top rules I've jotted down in my notebook so far:

  1. Don't leave the center of town without a gun, or without a guide with a gun. 
  2. Weather cycles are worthless here. It was pouring rain when I flew in and now today there was an avalanche a few mountains over. Trust no weather man, not that there is one here anyways. 
  3. You can be anyone from anywhere to come and live or work here. As part of the Svalbard Treaty, any nationality is welcome without the need of visas or other government approval requirements. I've already run into people from Poland, India, Malaysia, Scotland, France, England, and Canada. Anyone want to take me up on the offer to move out here? 
  4. If the sun sets, you better be indoors or have your head lamp at the ready.
  5. You need an alcohol card to purchase drinks at the grocery store since everyone is limited to how much alcohol they can purchase.  
  6. Like golden retrievers are to America, the husky is to Svalbard. I see a husky for every two or three humans in town. Thus, I now need to adopt a husky. 

Getting settled in Longyearbyen, Svalbard 

The cars on Svalbard use up every last bit of life left in them before switching to the next worn-down vehicle. 

This is a peak into the town greenhouse initiative that they started a few months ago... still learning the loopholes on how to sustain growth in below freezing temperatures. 

I thought that the universe was playing a sick joke on me when I walked off the plane and it started pouring rain outside. It was indeed unusual weather for this time of year and I thought maybe I had missed my chance at a snowy Svalbard... then it all changed. I woke up the next day around 1AM from jet lag to see the first snow of the week trickling down. The cruel fake-out of rain was now over and I had to kick things into high gear with hats and gloves and wool from head to toe. 

With my next post in a few days, be on the look out for an introduction to the Seed Vault!! Its about damn time, people. 

It's finally nice to meet up with people while traveling who can take my selfies for me instead of me having to do it all the time.

What more could you need? Well, besides a husky in the photo, nothing more. 

Lodge for my days here. 

Not so much a skateboarder's dream. 

Tricks of the trade when walking on ice.

It's almost Vault time... 

Inching My Way to Svalbard

Here's my game plan: Chicago >> London, London >> Oslo, Oslo >> Longyearbyen, Svalabrd. Coming from the US, I couldn't find any flights that came directly to Oslo, Norway, at the very least, let alone Svalbard. I came to terms that this was going to take no less than three flights totaling 13 hours, and to match that with nearly 15 hours in layovers since very few planes come to Svalbard this time of year. I had to work to find a flight that involved the least amount of layover time from Oslo to Longyearbyen, which ended  up being quite a few hours of waiting no matter which way I approached it from... 

This bag is going places.  

This bag is going places.  

Making compositions out of many hours of layovers. 

Making compositions out of many hours of layovers. 

This came as a great time to test out the new phone upgrade I had, matching the new iPhone camera with some picture perfect settings. Svalbard will prove as a great place to test it once I arrive, but nothing better than an airplane window view to start off the trip. 

Seriously could not tell if we were five feet from snow or not. 

Seriously could not tell if we were five feet from snow or not. 

A little London Heathrow magic before Oslo. 

A little London Heathrow magic before Oslo. 

My presidential seating of 6 unoccupied seats to Oslo. 

My presidential seating of 6 unoccupied seats to Oslo. 

You are North. 

You are North. 

By the third flight, the map on the airplane screen eventually changed to pure blew. North, North, North, soon it was just us and the Sea. Svalbard is up on it's own level as the largest Northern settlement in the world, with a population of about 2,000. I would have to cross quite a bit of Ocean to get there and be number 2,001. 

As I waited in my airport hotel room before the final flight to Svalbard, it all began to settle in that I was finally here. Arriving in Oslo was an accomplishment already, but Svalbard will be the final prize. The entire region from Oslo all the way up across the Ocean to Svalbard is experiencing an unseasonably warmer peak than what is normal for this time of year. It is about 40 degrees Fahrenheit here in Oslo, and Svalbard is not too far off, around 30 degrees. So for those that were worrying, looks like I won't have to be as frozen as I had thought. The core chamber of the Vault is surely going to be far below zero since it is buried far beneath the surface, but I'll just have to make sure not to get trapped down there all day! 

Scandinavia really out scandinaviaed itself with these colors. It's an Ikea Mecca over here. 

Scandinavia really out scandinaviaed itself with these colors. It's an Ikea Mecca over here. 

In My Rear View Mirror

My last few weeks in Chicago have been filled with visitors, new food discoveries, and lots of excitement building up for what's next. Before it's my turn to become the tourist in Norway and elsewhere, it felt nice to have my friends Lyza and Rachel visit from RISD and take them around the city I know best. We went to both new and old places from my 20+ years of experience here, which simply reminded me it is just as easy to find new adventures in your backyard as it is in a foreign city. While I'm in Longyearbyen, Oslo, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam, I'm sure I won't run out of people and places to see in my relatively short amount of time galavanting from city to city. 

Argyle Red Line Stop on the Chicago "L."

Argyle Red Line Stop on the Chicago "L."

Tank Noodle's beef pho.

Tank Noodle's beef pho.

Some of the newest places we discovered in Chicago were closer to home than I would have thought. Right off of the red line Argyle stop, there is a bustling population of Thai, Chinese, and Korean restaurants and bakeries. Speaking from my limited experience, I would say check out Tank Noodle for their pho. Any weekend around brunch time, you're definitely going to be waiting in line with half of the neighborhood, but it'll be worth it! 

Baha'i House of Worship.

Baha'i House of Worship.

Baha'i water garden reflection.

Baha'i water garden reflection.

I also started to reconsider the places that I had always driven by every now and then, beginning to remember their individuality. The Baha'i Temple sticks out like a beautifully sore thumb if you're not familiar with the area. Surrounded by the most candidly suburban houses, the temple became a unique location to visit for peace and reflection. When we went inside, it didn't seem to matter what religion anyone followed, as long as everyone abided by a level of respect for the site itself. 

Lighthouse Beach, Evanston, IL.

Lighthouse Beach, Evanston, IL.

Lincoln Park Conservancy and its hidden dinosaurs. 

Lincoln Park Conservancy and its hidden dinosaurs. 

As this is my last post stateside, I hope to come back to you with wifi service when I arrive in Svalbard. It could take a few days to gather the first portion of my imagery and begin to have a better idea of where this project will be going, but I'll be sure to bring you along through the thought process as it unfolds. Talk to you soon.. 

Bye friends! 

Bye friends! 

Cover Design Collaboration

The greatest thing about having gone to RISD is the amazing network of friends and alumni that I'm lucky to know or to be connected with through friends.

When it came down to brainstorming a cover design for my Global Seed Vault book, I found an illustrator through a friend who happened to have graduated the same year as me; her name is Gracey Zhang.  

Our design came about through a desire for simplicity and organic form. I searched for something that would capture an essence of why the vault exists while in an illustrative style that would tie into the visual content of the book. 

The book (according to the daydreams in my head) will be a visual pathway through natural formations and detailed textures, suddenly being pierced by the abstract form that is the Vault in the landscape.

The vault is a stitching to a a greater wound, hopefully strong enough to patch the problem of potential global crop destruction. You can't tell if the slash in this design is slicing the circular landscape in half, or if it's the only thing holding the two ends together.   

I think Gracey's style speaks the most truly towards this notion of a clash of climates with man-made error. 

Fiber Tough

It takes a lot to go off on your own in search of fulfilling an idea or a goal that you yourself are not too sure how or why to pursue. The moment someone else begins to believe in it, though, the greater the feeling you have when your mission takes off. I sincerely want to thank Pendleton & Freitag for sponsoring my trip and providing me with the clothing and travel gear I will need to get my equipment and myself through Svalbard and beyond. 

I have been a Pendleton poster child from my first vintage wool coat that I managed to thrift in Chicago. 

Since then, I have come to know just how warm their Oregon wool is and how perfect their clothing will be for my base layers in the cold. So much commercial clothing today is based of acrylic and other non-organic fibers that will fall apart over time, but I know the quality and durability of Pendleton natural wools is the reason their shirts and jackets will last me far beyond Svalbard. 

Equally so, I have admired Freitag for its creativity of repurposing materials to create some of the sturdiest and most unique travel bags on the market. By reclaiming seat belts and used truck tarps from the tops of European semi trucks, they created a series of bags that soared in popularity around Europe. I'm lucky enough to use their product line to ease my travel and organization.

It seemed only suiting I represent brands that are working in their own ways to create natural and sustainable products as the Seed Vault works towards its own framework of environmental sustainability and awareness.