the Winter 2004 Photolife
Journey into the Thelon
By Courtney Milne
Life thrives on the Barrenlands because it has learned to adapt to the hard realities of the North. meal. They bring the past alive with their stories of the early human drama of this area. We explore the remains of a trapper’s cabin and hear the grim tales of his last days trying to survive on boiled caribou hide until his matches run out. Though young in years, our guides convey a deep respect for the North and are close to the human history that puts the mystique of this land into perspective. A silence falls over our group as we view the graves of the last three people of the indigenous group known as the Etthen Eldehi, or Caribou Eaters. We stand in a semicircle around the three simple wooden crosses, perhaps not quite able to fathom that we indeed are bearing witness to not just the end of a culture, but the finality of a way of life.
None of our group could define it. Nobody identified why they had come. Nobody fully understood why it was so important to them, yet every one of us felt attached to an invisible thread that kept tugging at us to go. I made eight or ten phone calls and received as many “yes’s”. In one case, I mentioned to a friend, Thelma, that I was going to the Thelon, further away from civilization than anywhere on this continent. She just looked at me and said “I’m coming too”.
Photographers, artists and nature lovers made up our adventurous group. Dennis and Frieda Fast brought digital cameras—Dennis with vibration reduction lenses—and came prepared to fill the frame with caribou and musk ox. Glen Grambo also used long autofocus lenses and tele-extenders, but recorded his images on film. Manfred Forest chose several formats as well as both colour and black and white film. Alan Mirabelli did tripod work, preferring to spend more time on designated subjects close at hand. Adele Curtis came equipped with close-up lenses to interpret bearberry slipping into their autumn cloaks with breathtaking rapidity. She also brought her 81 year-old aunt Pat, who was only satisfied if she hiked a minimum of 30 km each day, and at a pace the rest of us couldn’t begin to keep up with. Others had point-and-shoots and preferred to travel light and cover more ground, while Gwen Curry used her camera to remind her of the landscape from which she will later create multi-image installation art pieces.
As for me, I packed my gear erring on the side of wide versus telephoto. I did take one long lens, a 200-500 mm zoom, but it was not an autofocus, so at times the caribou were a great challenge to shoot quickly.
My choice of equipment probably reflected my main interests, as first and foremost I wanted to photograph the Northern Lights. In order to reach across the sky as Northern Lights tend to do, I took several ultra-wides, my 18-mm, my 16-mm fisheye, and my 8-mm circular fisheye. I also took my f/1.2 normal lens, in case I found smaller patches of the lights that I could shoot wide open at faster shutter speeds. In the past, I had good success with this wide-open lens, photographing the aurora at f/1.2, using ISO 400 film for three to four seconds.
To obtain copies of this or other issues of Photolife magazine, visit their website at http://www.photolife.com/
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