Ragnar Axelsson, Faces of the North

Let me get right to the point … you must have this book! I can’t remember how or where I heard about it because I had never come across Ragnar Axelsson, otherwise known as RAX before — but boy I am glad I own it!!

Faces of the North established RAX as one of the great photographers — documentary or otherwise — of our time. This fact is recognized in the book’s preface, written by the late great Mary Ellen Mark. The focus is on the harsh and austere environment of Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, and those who inhabit these places. My guess is that this will be their last great document before they and their cultures are fundamentally altered by climate change and modernity.

The book contains about 100 black and white photographs that can only be described as stark. This is not a romantic portrait. When I look at the pictures I literally begin to feel that I am in the middle of a blizzard in the freezing cold. I sense what its like to be working together with the dogs and horses in the blustery wind. I believe I’m on the boat, helping to row it on choppy artic waters. I’m in the simple homes gazing out the doorways or windows.

The feeling is like what I get when I listen to a spectacular and great sounding jazz record … I sense the players are right in the room with me. Yes, these pictures are that real! I constantly come back to this wonderful book and always discover something new.

In some ways this book reminds me of one of Paul Strand’s great masterpieces and another favorite of mine, Tir A’ Mhurain, The Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

First published in 2004, Faces of the North quickly went out of print. However, it’s now available again, so do yourself a favor and get it; don’t miss out on an opportunity to cherish something special for a lifetime!

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