Because landscape photography so often means rendering the setting and the subject one in the same, the final images usually offer little room for interpretation. They may be powerful or sweeping, but they’re more about place than personality. What the camera captures is what exists—nature in its purest state. For photographer Fabien Baron, though, the challenge to defy that notion was a siren call.
This past April, Baron traveled with a team of assistants to the western region of Greenland to create his provocative series called Monuments, nine medium-format black-and-white photographs of icebergs that lend an almost unsettling, sinister light to the northern territory’s frozen landscape. Given that Greenland’s local language has four different word roots to express the concept of snow—and four more for ice—an artist’s interpretation seems particularly welcome here. “I really wanted the experience to be different from what people have seen before,” Baron, who is also Interview‘s editorial director, explains. He saw his study of the massive icebergs, some as wide as a few city blocks, as more than just environment, but rather as fearsome figures that come alive in his lens. “I wanted to shoot them at night,” he says. “I felt the icebergs looked even more dangerous and more special at night. And I wanted to light them up like monuments.”
The task of reaching the Arctic Circle alone was a globe-hopping succession of flights, but shooting the nocturnal glaciers from a tiny fleet of motorized boats became a test of human endurance and technology. A collaboration between the iconic camera brand Leica and the French outerwear label Moncler guaranteed superior equipment and protective clothing to outfit Baron and his assistants. Initially, Moncler’s chairman and CEO Remo Ruffini envisioned an alpine environment for the project. “I wanted something high, with magic. Fabien proposed Greenland,” Ruffini recalls.
“It was extremely personal to me-a chance to go back and do something I’ve always wanted to do,” Baron says, referencing a trip he had taken to Greenland seven years before. Interestingly enough, the biggest challenge in shooting the enormous icebergs was the movement. The constant churn and drift of the water, the boats, and the icebergs themselves required powerful strobe lights to capture each short-exposure shot as quickly as possible. The results are stunning: awesomely beautiful monstrosities staged as mysterious and menacing structures. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to tell if they’re actually composed of ice or earth. For inspiration, Baron, whose previous landscapes include a series of shots of the sea from the Mediterranean, American, and Western European coasts, says that he looked to issues of Life magazine from the 1940s and film noir: “I like that these gigantic pieces of ice could be like gigantic pieces of architecture in the middle of a city, and lit in the same manner. They almost became theater stages.”