On a recent trip to Greenland, landscape photographer Albert Dros had the opportunity to sail through the waters around Disko Bay. Located on the west coast of the country, the area is filled with wildlife like walruses, seals, and whales. They frolic in the icy waters that are dotted with icebergs. While Dros was in the area, he had a chance to experience the changing dynamic of Greenland’s environment and shoot some incredible imagery.
While leading photography tours, Dros soaked in the landscape and made full use of the creative opportunities offered by the icebergs. By photographing them in different types of light, they change dramatically and move from cool to warm depending on how the light is reflected. Some of his best work takes place during sunset when rich hues of orange, yellow, and pink bounce off the still waters and blanket these giant blocks of ice.
In Dros’s reflections on his journey, he speaks plainly of both the positive and negative sides of tourism in the area. On one side, there is the important discovery and appreciation of Greenland’s natural beauty. On the other, there is the inevitable transformation that occurs when a small village is overrun by large cruise ships. Juggling both perspectives, while also remaining conscious of how global warming is having an effect, Dros is careful to consider all his angles.
We had a chance to speak with the photographer about his impressions of Greenland, what it’s like to encounter an iceberg for the first time, and how responsible travel can help rather than harm. Read on for My Modern Met’s exclusive interview.
What made you decide to visit Greenland?
Greenland has always been on top of my locations to visit. I have been to the country before, and have been to the Arctic lots of times as well. I am drawn by the serenity of the place, the beauty of the light, and the ice. The midnight sun colors in the sky, reflecting in the calm water of Disko Bay and reflecting on the icebergs, is magical. I love the Arctic and the “cold” as much as I dislike sunny holidays and heat. I am not a person to go tanning at the beach and I really dislike warm weather in general. Spending time in the cold comes naturally. Even though it was not cold at all when I visited Greenland a few weeks back! Which was surprising.
How did the country meet your expectations?
When you think of Greenland you think of ice. And that’s what you get: lots of ice! It exceeded all my expectations. It’s really like walking and sailing around in a dream world. Everything is so beautiful and calm around Ilulissat. No wonder it’s getting so crowded there with the cruise ships!
What was different about Greenland than you thought going into the trip?
I would say that the most important thing this year was how surprisingly warm it was. I visited the Icelandic highlands a few days prior to going to Greenland. It was quite cold there, with very strong winds and temperatures getting to around zero degrees—for summer, that’s quite cold. I expected the weather to be colder when flying to Greenland, but the opposite was true.
Especially during the daytime, it was often above 10 degrees Celsius [50 degrees Fahrenheit]. I talked to the people who were there for the whole summer and they mentioned that a few weeks before my arrival the temps were above 20 degrees Celsius [68 degrees Fahrenheit] and people were walking in shorts. I really didn’t expect that.
How did it feel when you first came upon a giant iceberg?
Seeing that first giant iceberg is simply magical. But you already see them flying in with the plane. The first time I flew into Greenland was during a night with midnight sun with the beautiful purple light on the sea and ice. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything was so surreal, like in a dream world.
Sailing through the icebergs and seeing new ones pop up around every corner can make me behave like a little kid in a candy store. I just get so excited. Every iceberg looks different. I like to call them “mountains” or “mountain ranges” because they look just like that. And some of them are the size of mountains. You can particularly see that from my drone shots.
Did you get a sense of how locals felt about the rapid melting of the ice?
The people are definitely aware of it but currently, it’s not really affecting the villages. One time a huge piece broke down near the harbor and made all the ice go right in front of the harbor. We were at sea at that time and it was difficult to go back into the harbor. Actually, it seemed impossible. I flew up my drone to see how we could navigate back into port (drones are not only useful for taking pictures) and eventually, a few hours later, we made it back. I doubt that this had anything to do with the melt in general though, but it was an interesting adventure.
Most people just read about global warming but never get to experience something firsthand like this. How did it make you feel to see the melting up close?
Being there gives it a different perspective and makes it real. Most people only hear about it in the news. We do experience global warming on a worldwide scale in recent years though, with records of hot and cold breaking year after year throughout the whole world. But being there at the ice and seeing it, gives it that little something extra. It’s not only the ice but the whole setting. The heat, for example, already made all the foliage yellow and red—an autumn season that showed its first signs in August.
You also mention a lot of cruise ship tourism in the town. How did all those passengers make an impact on the town, in your opinion?
Most definitely. Seeing a new big cruise ship every two days in the port of Ilulissat definitely showed that Greenland is gaining popularity. And why not? It’s extremely beautiful so I can’t blame people wanting to visit. It’s a bit sad though, that these tourists spend 99% of their money on the cruise ships themselves. The little towns do not gain that much from them.
And yes, when a big ship arrives, the whole town is packed with people. On days without ships, it’s very quiet. So it has a big impact. Sometimes I walked on the hiking trails around Ilulissat alone, but it looked like a theme park whenever a big cruise ship arrived. They’re also building a big visitor center there which will hopefully benefit from all these tourists.
Why was it important for you to call attention to these issues when writing about your time in Greenland?
Simply because I care. People may think I don’t and that I am “part of the problem” by showing the beauty and doing photo tours in Greenland (although this is just a tiny bit of tourism and we support local hotels and restaurants). And this may be true, but on the other hand: with series like this I do have the possibility to show the whole beauty of Greenland. And by showing the beauty, I can automatically create awareness of what’s happening to this planet. Because people know. With photo series like this, I feel it makes the connection to the problem stronger.
What do you hope people take away from the photographs and your trip?
The simple thing of awareness. Awareness of global warming and to see how a beautiful place like Greenland may not be there anymore for future generations.