Ciril Jazbec finds an unlikely metaphor in an elderly man’s head of hair. At the age of 70, Uunartoq, a Greenland native and traditional hunter has robust locks, weathered by the harsh outdoors and years as one of the last genuine hunters that has remained steadfast to a way of life, living through subsistence hunting.
He resides in a far-off settlement in Northern Greenland along with 250 settlers and their 500 sled dogs, still living a traditional lifestyle. Seen from a photograph taken from behind, Uunartoq’s hair is full bodied, naturally gray given his age, scruffily worn as anyone else would under these circumstances. Its unruly appearance but vigorous nature is symbolic of the rugged, rustic lifestyle of Greenland itself.
When Jazbec initially traveled to Greenland, he envisioned photographing as many as ten different families. Meeting Uunartoq changed all that. Quite reluctantly Uunartoq agreed to be the focus of an American documentary on subsistence hunting, but not until he connected with Jazbec. The feeling was mutual as Jazbec realized that he had found a special rapport with Uunartoq. “It’s hard to gain trust; that’s why it’s special to me.”
Jazbec spent 14 days in Greenland with Uunartoq and has made plans to go back this month. A return trip is vital for him since he foresees change occurring very swiftly. Uunartoq has some real concerns with the younger people moving to towns, leaving a number of settlements abandoned. As climate change rears her ugly head, hunters like Uunartoq, already a vanishing breed, try their best to cope with shorter winters and volatile weather. It is a time-honored way of life, but like much else eroded by climate change, could sadly be gone before we know it.
Jazbec’s work has for the most part focused on nature. “I grew up surrounded by nature, by its authenticity and brutality. I assumed nature’s graphic style — strong contrasts, clean lines, multi-levelness. I feel overwhelmed by nature.” Climate change is passionate topic for Jazbec, and documenting individuals caught in the middle of it is one of his goals. “How do traditional communities live? How is their tradition facing the modern world? How to identify possible solutions? These things give me drive. Searching for hope that illustrates changes.”
See his poignant images of Uunartoq and a transforming Greenland here.