Thursday, October 21, 2010


Got a call from Janet today. She's in Barentsburg, home of rotgut vodka, dangerous industry and better celphone reception than midtown Manhattan.

Sounds like a good trip - polar bears, auroras, violent storms. I'm hoping that she'll be blogging from Longyearbyen in two days or so to fill us all in!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Message from Janet

Got a message from Janet - the Noorderlict has a "very low-speed radio link", so the folks onboard the ship are only allowed one short message during the trip.

"All ok up here. We have a bit of sea tonight. I've been shooting off flares and bangers whenever i get the chance. I've woken up a polar bear and a fox so far.

Went out in the kayak today. The sea was so full of ice that we pushed our way through by hand. The landscape is unbelievable beautiful and otherworldly. We have been up in the Love Fjord for the past couple of days. Went to Moffen and visited the walrus. Now heading back down the coast.

Will stop at the island where Swedish explorer Andres set off in his balloon tomorrow. Then ny alesund so i should be able to call you in a couple of days."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On the Town

Saw this today on the webcam -- looks like the Norwegian Navy is visiting Longyearbyen. Unless I'm mistaken, that's the KNM Otto Sverdrup, a Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate. It's a 120-man boat, primarily used to detect and destroy submarines.

So if Janet's ship runs into any rogue Russian subs, they have backup.

Here's a nice shot of (almost) the entire town of Longyearbyen:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Still in the Dark

No news from Janet, but I haven't expected to hear from her. I'm hoping she can get a word through if they get into Ny-Ålesund, but not sure if or when they'll get there.

Good news is that the winds are much lighter than last year -- but it will pick up early next week (predicted windspeeds of 30MPH/50KHP). It's cold up there -- 0F at night, 25F during the day. Daytime is disappearing, too. Two weeks ago, there was 12 hours of sunlight in Svalbard. It's below five hours now, and will be gone by the time they return to Longyearbyen. And even during those five hours, the sun is low on the horizon.

I'm sure they're having fun, can't wait to hear about their adventures!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Signal from Dark Side of Moon

Got a short, enigmatic text message from Janet. "Hey we. Cel reception because passing barentsberg. Elkhound well. Really Kline. Janet."

So the Elkhound is doing well. I'm guessing she isn't so good at texting in sub-freezing temperatures on a rocking boat.

These are pictures Janet shot last year in Barentsburg.
Barentsburg is a little lost bit of Soviet-era Russia, frozen in time. There is still mining going on. It probably isn't economically viable -- the population has dropped from over 2000 in 1990 to under 300. Unlike Longyearbyen, where there is a thriving post-mining economy, there are almost no tourist spots in Barentsburg except for a hotel and its bar.
The Russians probably keep it going in order to maintain mining and property rights.
Barentsburg is only 55km from Longyearbyen, but there are no roads. During the cold war, visitors from Barentsburg to Longyearbyen were required to have KGB chaperones. Now, they just need Kroners, which are just as difficult for the locals to acquire.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Looks like the weather is finally appropriate for the Arctic. Snow started falling tonight, weather for the Noorderlict is predicted at about -15C (5 degrees F), clear skies, light wind.

Leaving Longyearbyen

We are 19 artists, sprawled across the communal living space of MaryAnn's Polarigg, all frantically skyping and typing away. The bus picks us up in 10 minutes. It's dead silent. Everyone is nervous, but excited to get underway.

Once the bus gets here there will be a made rush to get all the bags on board. Our luggage takes up a sizable room. I remember last year, looking at all he bags getting carried onto the Noorderlicht and thinking ... No way! There is no way all this stuff can fit on that small boat. It's amazing how it's managed and eventually feels spacious on board. There is a light snow falling. Perfect for heading off on our adventure!

That's the Noorderlicht on the far left side of the webcam picture.

I'll be off the grid till we return to Longyearbyen...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mining and Filming in Sveagruva

Linda and MinersI just got back from an amazing couple days at Svea. I hopped the miner's flight down just in time to meet Linda as she got off of work. Linda was outfitted in a jumpsuit and completely covered in coal dust. She took me into the miner's locker rooms, equipped with showers, sauna, clothing (including helmet's, head lamps, and boots). Svea LockersSince there are only three women in the mine, the women's area is completely surrounded by the men's locker rooms. One turn of the head, and you get quite an eyeful!

Linda completely outfitted me (not for safety to keep my clothes relatively clean). We headed out for one of the entrances to the mine.
Janet at Mine EntranceThere is a tall crane that comes out of the mine with a conveyer belt running up it. The coal is transported out of the mine on this belt and dumped in a huge pile. We climbed out to the end of the crane on a narrow walkway. The walkway was made of grating with big holes. Not only was it tough to set up a tripod, but looking down sent my heart racing.

We hopped back into the truck and set off for another mine entrance. Driving at about 60km, the trip took 15 minutes. The road heads up into the mountains and is built on top of a glacier. They have had to rebuild the road annually as the glacier keeps melting. The entrance to the mine is a gaping hole in the side of the mountain. I had permission from the mining company to film around the entrance, but not to enter the mine. I filmed Linda for a couple hours and then we made our way to the mess hall for dinner

That night I taught Linda and a couple of the miners how to use my camera. Since I wasn't allowed into the mine, they had offered to take my camera in and film for me so I could get the footage I wanted.

The next day, they brought me amazing footage of an environment that is so extreme it's hard to imagine. Not being allowed to film in the mine had been such a frustration, but ended up creating a fantastic collaboration with the miners!

Janet Biggs: Artist/Miner

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Janet flew off on Wednesday to the "closed" mining settlement of Sveagruva. The only way to get there is via the mining company's daily flight. On a 17-seat prop-driven plane. I spoke with Janet, she said it was an amazingly beautiful 15 minute trip.

Sveagruva is an old-fashioned company town. The mining company, Store Norske, owns everything -- the dorms, the kitchens, airport, and of course, the mines.

Miners fly in to work 14-day shifts, then head back to Norway (or Longyearbyen) for a 14-day break. The mine itself is about 3.5 km deep (a little over two miles!)

[note -- these aren't Janet's pictures. We'll have to wait until she posts some.]

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mine 7

Linda Fur CoatBetween the jet lag I can't seem to kick and my cold, I was moving pretty slow on Sunday. I slept late and didn't get out to film until the afternoon. I was half way up a mountain when my phone rang (Longyearbyen may be a small town, but it has amazing cell reception). Linda, the woman coal miner who is the focus of my project was calling. I finished up filming and walked over to her house.

Linda Fur CoatHere's a picture of Linda in her amazing sealskin coat.

Linda works at Svea, the larger of the two Norwegen mines. Svea is about 60km to the south of Longyearbyen. The miners there work a 14 days on, 14 days off schedule. They fly in for their shifts. Linda was just finishing up her 14 days off.

Road to Mine 7We made plans to go to Mine 7 Monday morning. Mine 7 is just north of Longyearbyen and reachable by car. Longyearbyen has two main roads that run perpendicular to each other. Both roads just end, one at the mine and the other at a glacier.

ResidenceI headed back to my residence at Galleri Svalbard and spent the evening charging batteries and doing laundry.

Linda had borrowed a car and picked me up Monday morning. We had permission to film around the entrance to the mine, but not inside. We entered a large garage looking building. Inside the building was a lot of machinery, vehicles, and a huge hole into the mountain. I spent a couple hours filming Linda and the miners who work in Mine 7.

Linda DinnerTo celebrate a successful day of filming, Linda and I had dinner at Funken, a hotel and restaurant with a view over Longyearbyen. The restaurant seemed to think my "reservation for two" was for a romantic dinner - note the hearts on the table. After too many courses of things like Arctic Char tartar and reindeer, I went to bed swearing I'd never eat that much again.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Santa Claus Mine

Yesterday, I climbed up to an old abandoned mine above Longyearbyen. The locals call it the Santa Claus mine It's also rumored to be the summer home of Santa.

The locals say that this is the summer home of Santa. Mr. Klaus needs to make more money and do some rehab. Every Christmas season a mailbox is placed on the road below the mine. The local kids write their letters to Santa and place them in the box, hoping that Santa will come down from the mine and give them the toys they've asked for.

And it's very scary. Like, horror movie scary. And yes, there are haunting whistling noises coming out of the mine shaft. Luckily, it's frozen over, so I assume the monsters can't come out. Yet.

The climb is deceptively long and tough. The steep incline is covered with loose gravel and mud. I was hauling two backpacks with camera equipment and a tripod (which I regretted within seconds).

This mine was originally opened by Americans in the 1900s. In 1916 the Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani (SNSK) became established, and they bought the mine from the American owner (Mr. Longyear).

The tall wooden structures are cable trestles, and are considered cultural monuments of the old manual-labor coal mining days in Longyearbyen. Back when the mines were working, the coal was transported in "kibs" (carriers) on the cable way to the cleaning plant.

I finally got up to the mine and heard a dog barking inside. I called out, but no answer. I hiked around the mine looking for the dog. I returned to the lower part and heard the dog again. It was totally creepy! We're talking horror movie creepy. I had to take a few moments and calm my terror. I wanted to run back down (not a good idea with the terrain). I finally convinced myself that the barking was just some old metal flapping in the wind (yeah, right). What finally made me set up and film was the thought that if I didn't do it then, I would have to haul all that equipment up some other day ... the shots were just too good to miss.

After a few hours of crawling in and around the mine, I slowly made my way back down, happy to leave the ghost dog behind.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Longyearbyen Pics

Here's some pictures from Janet.

Downtown Longyearbyen

UNIS - The University Center in Svalbard (big building, eh?). UNIS is the world's northernmost higher education institution, and offers high quality courses at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate level in Arctic Biology, Arctic Geology, Arctic Geophysics and Arctic Technology.

The locals are complaining about the lack of snow - it's been hovering just above freezing, with lots of rain. So the snowmobiles remain parked:

Coal hoppers from the good old days - these were used to bring coal down from the mines above town:

View up the valley. Janet's residency is in a house about a mile up this road - a bit of a walk back into town!

Another view up the road:

This is a shot (not taken by Janet) of the artist residency house. It has three bedrooms and a shared kitchen/living room. It's currently being shared by three artists.

Click on the pictures to get bigger images.
Today I moved from the Polarigg to Galleri Svalbard's artist residence. It took much of the day just repacking and hauling my stuff from one place to the next. I may be short on clothes, but not on equipment. I have two primary cameras and three back-ups ... all insured with a "bring back a carcass and we'll give you a new camera" policy. The Arctic can be tough on cameras.

After finally getting settled in my new home and talking to some of the artists who have studios here, I walked the 1 1/2 km very long 2.5km into town. It was actually raining, a rare occurance for this time of the year. It should be snow.

I met Karianne and her children at the Radisson for an early dinner. It was so great to see her after a year's time. We met last year when she volunteered to be one of the paddlers for the synchronized kayak piece I've come back to finish.

I didn't film today, but scouted some locations and made plans to start tomorrow.