Ragnar Axelsson captures the reality of harsh living beyond the lens.
This following article was published in the first issue of our seasonal magazine, Rangá Review, in 2016.
This season we catch up with one of Iceland’s most documented and internationally acclaimed photographers Ragnar Axelsson, also known as RAX, who has dedicated his career to capturing the lives of the hunters, fishermen and farmers living on the fringe of the habitable world. His stories have appeared in print worldwide and his underlying message is clear; he fears that the traditional culture of the Arctic people is disappearing and that they will not be able to resist the disrupting effects of larger forces such as the economy and climate change. Axelsson’s current project brings together all of his experiences within one exceptional book about the Arctic as a whole.
“I have the feeling that the world needs to see and know more about the arctic,” he says. “This book is a little puzzle that forms part of a much bigger picture globally.”
Axelsson’s major photography series feature collections spanning more than two decades. In Faces of the North (2004) he focuses on the lives of individuals in remote areas, whereas in Last Days of the Arctic (2010) he contrasts the wider global effects of climate change with stories of subsistence hunters in Greenland and Canada. In his latest series, Behind the Mountains (2013), Axelsson presents 100 photographs which draw together his 25-year-long relationship with a small community of farmers and their annual sheep round-up in the Icelandic highlands.
“One of my best known photographs is the picture of the old man with the white beard standing near the ocean. I like that picture and the man in it became a good friend,” he says. “Many of the photographs from the Arctic have captured things that will be impossible to witness in the future.”
Iceland has a special place in his heart, of course.
“I do feel most at home here, I also like Greenland and The Faroe Islands which are among my favourite locations,” Axelsson says.
“In Iceland one of my best places is Múlagljúfur canyon near the farm Kvísker on the south east coast of Iceland near the lagoon, Jökulsárlón. It has been a special place for me since I was a kid living on the farm near the canyon, I could stay there for hours just dreaming.”