GoSee book tip :‘Polar Night’ by Mark Mahaney documents the rough and fascinating Alaskan town of Utqiaġvik, falling into a deep, two-month hibernation
Photographer Mark Mahaney visited Utqiagvik in Alaska, the northernmost city in the USA and one of the farthest north in the world. The sun doesn’t rise there for 65 days each winter and baths the area in grayish-purple twilight for only a few minutes. It is also known as ‘ground zero for climate change’. He presents us his poetic and seemingly decelerating observations in the impressive project entitled ‘Polar Night’.
“Mark Mahaney’s Polar Night is a passage through a rapidly changing landscape in Alaska’s northernmost town of Utqiagvik. It’s an exploration of prolonged darkness, told through the strange beauty of a snowscape cast in a two month shadow. The unnatural lights that flare in the sun’s absence and the shapes that emerge from the landscape are unexpectedly beautiful in their softness and harshness. It’s hard to see past the heavy gaze of climate change in an arctic town, though Polar Night is a visual poem about endurance, isolation and survival.”
Mark Mahaney’s photographs have a simplicity that belies the depth of his vision. For Mahaney, the meaning of a story cannot be conveyed in an individual image. Instead, he singles out eloquent details, creating elegant, restrained images that add up to more than the sum of their parts.
Much of Mahaney’s work concentrates on places and ways of living that no longer exist. American rural life was once personified by small Midwestern towns such as the one that Mahaney himself grew up in. Places like these have been transformed beyond recognition, but the dreams and aspirations that formed them are still to be found in the traces that remain. The honesty with which he depicts these quiet, unspectacular landscapes is also present in the impartiality with which he treats his portrait subjects. Mahaney’s vision is innately democratic, focused on what is relevant and special about each person he photographs. The individual’s personal environment is an expression of their inner life, and Mahaney prefers to depict his subjects in their own spaces. His approach is measured, even methodical, drawing out the most meaningful elements of a scene and gathering them together to build a narrative. In his photographs, what’s left out of the frame is as important as what’s included.