Brain Pickings

Through the Eyes of the Vikings: The Aerial Arctic

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From fjords to humpbacks, or what 11th-century nostalgia has to do with polar bears.

We’re big fans of aerial photography and it hardly gets any better than that of National Geographic photographer Robert B. Haas.

After stunning the world with Through the Eyes of the Gods: An Aerial Vision of Africa in 2005 and Through The Eyes Of The Condor: An Aerial Vision of Latin America in 2007, Haas is now back with his coolest project yet, literally: Through the Eyes of the Vikings: An Aerial Vision of Arctic Lands — an ambitious and visually gripping exploration of the Arctic.

Bay of Bothnia, Sweden

Recycling pools beside a lumber facility near the port city of Karlsborg pock the landscape like shots through tempered glass.

Langøya Island, Norway

Industrial byproducts form a swirling palette at a waste-treatment facility on this island south of Oslo.

Manitoba, Canada

A polar bear pauses on a bed of kelp on Cape Churchill.

Lynn Canal, Alaska

Tributaries of the spectacularly deep fjord wind across a muddy plain to empty into a blue-green bay.

Whether in myth or in fact, the Vikings call to mind a hardy and adventurous spirit of exploration and enterprise. The cool stare of a Viking in the slit beneath fur-lined headgear and above a craggy length of beard betrayed a willingness to face risk, eyeball-to-eyeball, to witness sights that others had not seen before and capture bounty that might one day become the stuff of legend.” ~ Robert Haas in the book’s introduction

Clam Gulch, Alaska

A clam digger pokes around Cook Inlet.

Kiruna, Sweden

Snowmobile tracks crisscross the surface of a melting pond.

Red Glacier, Alaska

Bergs and boulders form islands of ice and rock in the basin of the glacier.

What makes the book particularly captivating is the subtle bittersweet undertone of reconciling the breathtaking romance of the Arctic with our lurking awareness of its slow demise in the grip of climate change, with a breath of irony as we come to realize these magnificent landscapes are already dramatically different from what the Vikings saw centuries ago.

Iniskin Bay, Alaska

The Iniskin River resembles a reflective ribbon of glass as it flows into its namesake bay.

Disko Bay, Greenland

Mother and calf humpback whales breach the electric-blue surface on the west coast of Greenland.

Like an ephemeral memento, Through the Eyes of the Vikings hangs in our collective conscience with equal parts retrograde nostalgia and alive appreciation, encapsulating a moment in time and space slowly severed from existence by the axe of an invisible Viking.

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