From one of Canada’s most passionate and widely published photographers, Dave Brosha’s book of photography transports the viewer to amazing Arctic and Subarctic locations. Here, an excerpt from his book and a few of his awe-inspiring images.
I was born a Northern boy and a Northern boy I’ll die.
My childhood was spent exploring the forests, riverbanks, fields and creeks of Fort Vermilion, a tiny little hamlet in northern Alberta that we – my brothers and sisters and I – thought was as far north as north can be. Winters were harsh, but home. Cold dripped into our veins and crisp, crunchy snow was frequently our soundtrack.
We were not far from the Northwest Territories-Alberta border, and during spring breakup we would often drive north of High Level – where the pavement turned to gravel and dust and dirt – towards Enterprise, Northwest Territories, and then, finally, the Mackenzie River. There, my father and I would fish for northern pike, tell stories and make campfires. The expanse of land seemed endless and the rivers and waterfalls impossibly grand. I never thought these lands would someday be south for me, but years later – after I completed high school and university on the east coast of Canada – I would find out that North is an incredibly large concept.
In 2002, my wife, Erin, and I moved to an even tinier place called Resolute Bay, Nunavut. Two hundred twenty or so souls living far north of the Arctic Circle. We were living outside Antigonish, Nova Scotia, when the call came for Erin to interview for a job that she quickly secured; we had to take out the atlas to see where it was that we had agreed to move. Our eyes widened when we realized that Resolute was the second-most northerly community in Canada – in a country known for its northern communities.
I credit Resolute and our time there for making me a photographer. I was in my early 20s and just content to see where life would take me; I moved north without any specific knowledge of photography other than the fact that I had a little point-and-shoot camera with a promise to our families back home to “send pictures”.
How quickly that changed.
In Resolute I rediscovered a love of the North that had been buried in my soul since childhood. Snow and ice and fresh air and wildlife and, well, a sense of perseverance. My camera quickly became my creative outlet, and a little hobby soon became an obsession. My peace and joy outside my “real” job was exploring – either by foot or by snow machine – the environment around me, and I found excitement in climbing up snow canyons, in crawling on my stomach into holes in small icebergs, and in watching the symphony of changing Arctic colours as the seasons turned into one another.
One fortuitous day I met Martin Hartley, a British photographer. He was in Resolute as expedition photographer for fellow Brit Pen Hadow’s attempt on the North Pole. Luckily for me, I was also helping out on the expedition, and when Martin discovered that I had an interest in photography, he invited me to head out shooting with him. Martin was, and still is, my photographic hero, and when I saw what he did for a living, and the magic he captured with his camera and lenses, I could only dream of someday doing what he did. The notion to me of ever being a professional seemed so far-off as to be impossible, but Martin encouraged and inspired. Creatively, I felt like I finally had a purpose in life; the Arctic was my launch pad. Once I discovered photography and the joy it gave me, there was no turning back; it became all encompassing. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the craft – I pored over photography books and magazines and blogs – while at the same time always trying to remember, while in the field, to not get so caught up in the technical nuts and bolts that I failed to just observe and enjoy the moments spent outside. The world outside was simply too beautiful to not appreciate.
Photography was the perfect hobby, starting out – a hobby that grew into so much more. I’ve always been a creator: I love going through each and every week knowing that I’ve outputted, in some shape or fashion, something. I’m not one for sitting around and letting life go by. Photography allowed me, in a sense, to accumulate creations: in the early days, this was the thrill of receiving in the mail a batch of processed slides; later, it would be the instant thrill of seeing a moment come alive on the back of my digital viewfinder that might become a print or a memory shared with others via social media.
Since those earliest hobbyist days, I’ve learned and come to appreciate the immense power of photography. Photographs have the power to record time, to educate, to promote, to allow appreciation and to inspire. One of the encounters in my own journey that has stuck with me is the time I ran into an Inuk woman, Anna, at the local grocery store in Resolute. She stopped me in an aisle and said she had been looking at some of my photos online. “I’ve lived here (in Resolute) pretty much my whole life,” she said. “I always thought it was sort of ugly… but seeing your photos has made me realize we really do live in a beautiful place. Thank you so much for that!”
Those are the moments I live for in photography. I try to make photographs that resonate with me, sure, but when the rare image resonates with someone else: that’s the connection that many photographers strive for. It is why we’re outside in poor conditions, in the dark and in the cold, and why we spent countless moments simply waiting. And watching. It’s the thrill of the chase, and the high you receive when those countless moments pay off. When you feel that you’ve captured something special – something different; something unique.
The North, I feel, is my own unique world. It’s a place where I go to feel alone, and out of that aloneness I gain so much community: a contradiction I feel many who have ventured North will understand, agree with and share in. These, here, are some of my favourite images from approximately 15 years spent documenting various parts of the North. No matter where I end up living in this world, the North will always be part of me. It’s my community.