Photographer Eirik Johnson recently set out to photograph hunting cabins of the Iñupiat people of Barrow, Alaska. What he found instead was a very unusual surprise. Situated in the northernmost region of the U.S. along the Chukchi Sea, these hunting cabins are subjected to extreme shifts in weather characteristic of the Arctic climate.
These structures are built from improvised resources ranging from plywood to other scrap material found at the decommissioned Naval Base nearby. The cabins withstand extreme temperature changes that at times can be life threatening. Each structure is unique, with every cabin designed in absolutely “freestyle” architecture. These lodgings are a testament to the Iñupiat people’s ability to create something distinctive, even from scrap material. It is born out of the kind of resilience needed to withstand the harsh conditions of the region. Johnson’s photos of the humble dwellings are aptly called Barrow Cabins.
At first glance the photos seem like a showcase of the provisional architecture built by the indigenous Iñupiat people of Alaska. However, further observation shows more than just hunting cabins. Each building is an original, improvised structure conforming to the builder’s sense of shape, function as well as aesthetic. It is also a result of each builder’s inventiveness as he make’s do with the hodgepodge of materials on hand. Johnson saw this stamp of originality and personality on each cabin.
Initially photographed in the delicate light of an Alaskan summer night, Johnson once again returned to shoot each cabin from the same vantage point during winter. The photos chronicle the passage of time going from stark white covered imagery to the earthy colors of warmer months. Structures that didn’t survive the two years’ time period between shots are discerned by a child’s playhouse or an abandoned swing set as clues.
Both the summer and winter photographs are a reflection on the passage of time as well as the seasonal uncertainties of the severe conditions that typify Alaska.
See the Barrow Cabins series here.