Posts from Duncan Harris

Back home.

By Duncan // Wednesday 26 Sep // 09:26:29 // 1 Comment // View

Monday 24th September

Back home.

Well I’ve been filming all these lovely people for more than a week, trying to document their private thoughts and personal feelings when they reflect on being here. And guess what, I’m going to miss them all, they have been such good company. They must be fed-up of being interviewed and filmed, and a couple have suggested I’ve been hiding behind the camera. Yes that’s true. I can hardly string a sentence together at the best of times and you have all been so good at it… some needed less persuading than others.

So my closing thoughts are;

Svalbard is a place of human failure, a frontier that is just holding on against something that would not be tamed. For all the ingenuity, all the technology, the mining, hunting trapping, whaling, exploring, not much has stood to time except as a kind of epitaph.

This place has existed since the first continental land mass appeared on earth. It is humbling to think that every geological age from Precambrian, the era from the beginning of earth’s history, through to Tertiary, is laid out in the mountainsides, revealed as the glaciers gouged out the valleys, then freeze-thaw shattered the cliff faces. Rocks of the most varied geological types, carved, crushed and ground on their way down to the shore, then dumped as the glaciers have melted. Heaps of bolders and pebbles, from every age lying jumbled together, no two the same, arranged in great piles as if by a deranged JCB driver.

Memories of being there.
So quiet, empty and lonely, lovely, brutal and fierce.

For a place so baron, to have so much seems peculiar. You become focussed on the huge and the tiny.
Bright orange lichen. The ice split pebbles. 100 meter high glaciers. Sweeping mountain ranges, Huskey dog blue eyes. A red sailing boat on crystal blue water. Anchor chains rattling, booms swinging across the deck, hoisting sails. The churning of huge volumes of water as I try to sleep. Banging on the deck as the night watch tack the ship at 4 am. Coke cans crashing in the galley. Getting off the boat and still feeling I’m moving.

A glacier crumbling at two metres a day, cracking like thunder, a frosty blue diamond fragmenting in distant slow motion. Cool blue sea ice drifting by on a marmalade sunset sea.

The arctic swim by teachers and students. Brave stuff that.

A reindeer grazing just a few metres away. A butchered carcass beneath a bird cliff. Walrus feeding at sea. Whale vertebrae on the beach, bleached white, Russian bones in a 18th century coffin. Angel seabird wings lying on a soft moss mattress, attached by a bare breast-bone. Polar bear on the shore.

As Dan Harvey said, ‘Everything a man does here gets rejected; even his bones when he’s dead.’
Svalbard is what is natural in this region of the earth, and after struggling to exist here for so long, it’s ironic that without effort, our modern life-style is resulting in making it more hospitable, accessible. It is changing before our eyes, and it does make me seriously think about the true cost of what I have and want. I think there were moments for all the students when their perspective changed.

They will bring it all back home, first-hand witnesses. Telling stories, distil, put into words, music, picture, pass on their experiences hopefully to persuade others that we can’t always get what we want we want. The climate is changing and if we want to do something to reduce that, we’d better do it now.

The moments of being there become memories in a busy urban life, collecting e-mail, catch the evening news, open the front door to all that traffic, and in time remembered, perhaps unexpectedly summoned to company by the ringing of a ship’s bell.


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Arctic Fox on shore!

By Duncan // Saturday 15 Sep // 20:52:43 // 1 Comment // View

Saturday. 15th Sept 2007.
Up at about 7.45. Josef (one of the students) knocking at my cabin door telling me there’s an arctic fox on shore and I should film it. Turned out to be a Reindeer. This place is seemingly so empty and devoid of life. So little to feed on I wonder how an animal as big as a Reindeer can find enough to eat.

The Noorderlicht anchored overnight in Trygghamna (Safe Harbour), near the mouth of Isfjord. All the glaciers snaking down from the mountains end way before they reach the waters edge, dumping their load of shattered rock in massive piles on the shingle beaches. We went ashore by Zodiac, across the transparent, steely blue water, for a walk with our Danish guide Christian, armed with a rifle and pistol.
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Svalbard Day 1

By Duncan // Friday 14 Sep // 12:35:08 // 2 Comments // View

Just about minus 1 outside but felt cold after the ‘comfort’ of air-conditioned planes and airports that have been home for 36 hours.

Svalbard was hidden below low cloud as we flew in, From above the clouds looked like snow,  and as we descended through it I was surprised to see the mountain slopes a rich red-brown, the remains of the summer’s grasses.

The huge mountains all around the settlement of Longyearbyen look as if dusted lightly with icing sugar, with the ice fractured rocks jutting through revealing their sedimentary layers.


I’ve made friends with Rocky the young Alaskan Husky who has his kennel outside the basecamp  hotel. He’s the strong silent type, bred solely for sledge pulling and his attractive grey and white fur is not show, but solely for keeping the dog warm. He has incredible sky blue eyes.

We are all suffering from ‘too many pockets syndrome’, we have to carry around so many things we can never remember which pocket we put them in.  Children all loving it, and friendships are developing.

Dan Harvey the artist mentor, is growing a beard, I am sending day 1 picture and will keep you posted.


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Profile: Duncan Harris

By Duncan // Friday 10 Aug // 11:31:59 // 1 Comment // View


Duncan Harris (Director/Editor)
Duncan went on the 2005 Cape Farewell voyage and has edited all the TV material produced so far by Cape Farewell, including David Hinton’s film for the BBC Art in the Arctic.

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