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Four Seasons in the Arctic

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Photographer Subhankar Banerjee spent two years and traveled 4,000 miles by foot, raft, kayak, snowmobile, and bush plane to document the ecological diversity and Native cultures of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in all four seasons. Forty-nine of his photographs, described as “stunningly beautiful” by New York Times senior art critic Roberta Smith, are on view at the Burke Museum. The exhibit, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Land and Life, runs through December 31, 2005.

Banerjee, a Boeing scientist before becoming an artist, survived blizzards with negative-40 degree temperatures to photograph and document the yearly cycles of the arctic animals, plants, birds, water, and indigenous peoples — the Inupiat Eskimos and Gwich’in Athabascans of this remote land.

Banerjee’s photographs do not romanticize the landscape. “Employing simple compositions, mostly subdued light of cloudy days, and a meditative process of observation, I wanted to portray the duality of grandness and simplicity,” the artist explains. “My study is a representation of the fragility and vulnerability of grand landscapes.” 

The Refuge is one of the largest preservation areas in the world, containing the greatest diversity of plant and animal life in the circumpolar north. It contains 36 species of land mammals, nine species of marine mammals, 36 species of fish among its 20 rivers and numerous lakes, and 180 species of birds from six continents that congregate in the short seasons of spring, summer, and fall.