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Documentary History

A Heartening Documentary Follows the Community Harvesting Ice in Minnesota's North Woods

September 22, 2021

Grace Ebert

Each winter in Ely, Minnesota, a crew treks out onto a frozen lake to cut hefty blocks of ice from its surface. They haul the thick chunks to storage, where they’re stacked, covered in sawdust, and preserved for use the rest of the year, a once-necessary method of refrigeration rarely applied today. Consisting of dozens of people, some who have been dedicated to the cause for decades and others who joined in the last year or two, the team engages in the age-old practice of harvesting the frozen blocks at the property of legendary explorer and preservationist Will Steger.

Produced by Gravity Films and directed by Nathaniel Schmidt, “Ice Ball” follows the crew throughout two seasons as they endure below freezing temperatures, a typical condition for Minnesota winters that made filming extra challenging, at the explorer’s sustainable enclave in the North Woods. The short documentary spotlights the community that’s gathered around Steger since his Arctic expeditions and chronicles their devotion to more sustainable ways of living.

As the disastrous effects of the climate crisis accelerate, historic methods like the ice harvest reduce the reliance on carbon-based energy sources and offer an urgent alternative. “All of the ice shelves that I’ve traveled on in the polar regions, north and south, they’re not there anymore. We’re at this crisis now, the human race and the planet. We’re going to have to innovate out of it, and this is what it’s about,” Steger says.

According to Short of the Week, Schmidt is currently working on a feature-length documentary about the life of a Wiradjuri woman. It’s slated for release next August, and in the meantime, you can find more of his work on Vimeo.

 

 

 



Photography

Staggering Photos Capture a Frozen Apartment Complex in Vorkuta, a Dwindling Russian City That's the Coldest in Europe

March 15, 2021

Grace Ebert

All images licensed, © Arseniy Kotov

Photographer Arseniy Kotov is dedicated to documenting the changes in Russian life and architecture since the fall of the USSR, a commitment that brought him to the coldest European city last February. Located about 110 miles from the Arctic Ocean, Vorkuta is a small mining town that once held one of the largest and most grueling forced labor camps during Stalin’s reign. Often plagued by temperatures as low as -45 degrees Celcius, the city now has one of the fastest dwindling populations in all of Russia.

During Kotov’s visit, he toured various housing complexes built for workers, many of which were abandoned when the mines closed. One building in particular, though, is evidence of how desertion continues to unsettle the once-thriving city, an ongoing problem that Kotov captured in a stunning series. His photographs frame the dilapidated, five-story structure that’s entirely subsumed by feet-long icicles and mounded snow. Relics from former residents and the chipped, blue paint peek through the frost, much of which clings to the stairs and banisters and climbs the walls.

 

Kotov tells Colossal that often, buildings are transformed into similarly chilling caves when pipes burst due to lack of maintenance, leading to splashes of hot water, subsequent high humidity, and then ice growth on every surface. At the time of his visit, one family remained in the Severniy-district building, which was still connected to the central heating system that runs through Russian cities, making it easier to pass through some of the walkways thanks to warmth from the radiators. Although Kotov wasn’t able to meet the sole occupants, he did hear that they moved not long after his tour, saying:

As I know, locals said that after one week as I visited this building, he and his wife were resettled to another apartment, and this whole building was cut off from all the communications (water, heating, electricity). This is a usual story in Vorkuta: as less and less people are left, it becomes unprofitable to heat an entire building, and people are gradually moved to others where there are more inhabitable apartments. Local authorities call it a “managed compression strategy.”

Many of Kotov’s photographs are compiled in Soviet Cities: Labour, Life & Leisure, and his second book, which is full of images he captured while hitchhiking around the country, is slated for release in November. Prints are available from Galleri Artsight, and you can follow Kotov’s sightings and travels on Instagram.

 

 

 



Art

A Frozen Installation by Azuma Makoto Preserves a Vibrant Floral Arrangement in Ice

January 4, 2021

Grace Ebert

All images © Shiinoki/AMKK, shared with permission

Japanese artist Azuma Makoto (previously) is known for shifting the contexts in which we typically view florals—think encasing bouquets in blocks of ice or suspending them in the stratosphere—through installations and designs that blur the boundaries between art and botany. Shown here is a 2018 project titled “Frozen Flowers” from Makoto’s In Bloom series. The undertaking brought the artist to Notsuke Peninsula in Hokkaido where he doused open blossoms and greenery in water. Positioned against the stark, snowy landscape, the resulting arrangement is frozen in its original splendor, allowing the vibrancy of the flowers to peek through the icicles.

“The place where this installation was held in Hokkaido is also called the end of the world since blighted pine trees are usually spread out there and that place freezes over in winter,” says Makoto’s studio. “It was the series of how Azuma pursued unknown possibilities of flowers and how flowers express themselves under this condition.”

More images and a short video of Makoto’s process are available on his site, and you can follow his latest works on Instagram. (via The Jealous Curator)

 

 

 



Animation

Freeze Frame: A Meditative Stop-Motion Short Explores Preservation and Decay Through a Tedious Ice Harvest

December 30, 2020

Grace Ebert

Brussels-based director Soetkin Verstegen bills her methodical and nostalgic animation “Freeze Frame” as a “miniature cinema inside an ice cube.” Produced in a grainy, vintage style, the black-and-white short loosely follows workers as they harvest and attempt to preserve the frozen blocks. Amidst scenes of the monotonous, assembly-line efforts are insects, frogs, and various creatures swimming across the frames and eventually, crystallizing into skeletal ice sculptures.

In a conversation with Short of the Week, Verstegen spoke to the difficulty of using such a transient material, calling it “the most absurd technique since the invention of the moving image.” The tedious nature of stop-motion further matches the repetitive movements of the film’s subjects, forming “a playful puzzle with formal ideas around early cinema, decay, and preservation.”

You can find more of Verstegen’s short films that experiment with animation techniques on Vimeo.

 

 

 



Photography

An Ultra High-Resolution 'Snowflake Camera' Captures the Extraordinary Details of Snow Crystals

November 19, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Nathan Myhrvold, shared with permission

It’s easy to forget that the mounds of snow lining sidewalks each winter actually are comprised of billions of tiny crystals with individual grooves and feathered offshoots. A trio of photographs taken by Nathan Myhrvold, though, serves as a stunning reminder of that fact as they expose the intricacies hidden within each molecule.

To capture such crisp images, the Seattle-born photographer traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska, and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, where temperatures plunged to –20 °F. “Water, an incredibly familiar thing to all of us, is quite unfamiliar when you see it in this different view. The intricate beauty of snowflakes is derived from their crystal structure, which is a direct reflection of the microscopic aspects of the water molecule,” he says.

Formally trained in physics, Myhrvold spent 18 months building a custom camera with a cooled-stage microscope to ensure that the flakes remained frozen as he shot. Short-pulse, high-speed LED lights reduce the heat the instrument emits, and at a minimum, its shutter speed clocks in at 500 microseconds. Myhrvold says it’s the highest-resolution snowflake camera in existence.

You also might enjoy this profile of Wilson A. Bentley, who’s billed as the pioneer of snowflake photography. (PetaPixel)

 

 

 



Photography Science

Lake Waves Appear Frozen in Time Amidst the Rocky Mountains in Photographs by Eric Gross

March 9, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Eric Gross, shared with permission

Shot at an elevation nearing 10,000 feet in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, a series of images by Eric Gross capture a high-alpine lake covered in icy ridges and dips that mimic sleek waves. The Colorado-based photographer tells Colossal that local experts believe the phenomenon is caused by snowdrifts blowing onto the already frozen lake, melting there, and then refreezing. “Through multiple melt/freeze cycles and after periods of high winds, the mounds and divots are shaped into deep curves, sometimes with sharp ridges and lines that give the appearance of regular lake waves, frozen in time,” Gross says. “Composing images from ground level revealed that the dark ice waves exhibit psychedelic reflections of the surrounding mountainous landscape.” To see more of the photographer’s phenomenological works, head to Instagram.