Videographer Dennis Schmelz traveled to Greenland’s icy shores to capture the magic of its year-round winter wonderland. We caught up with Dennis to ask him about his experience in the chilly country.
Was this your first trip to Greenland? Why did you decide to visit?
It was my first trip to Greenland, but certainly not the last!
I had met the famous photographer Daniel Kordan while on a photo and film trip in the Lofoten islands in Norway in 2016. After looking at his webpage, I found a guided workshop in eastern Greenland. One year later, I booked a spot in that workshop, and was guided by Daniel and Iurie Belegurschi — two world-renowned photographers and all-around awesome guys.
I’ve always been extremely interested in the country, because it’s such a unique area. It’s the biggest island in the world, but 80 percent of it is covered in ice, its population is comprised of only 56,000 people, and there are no streets between localities, which I find impressive. And, of course, viewing the enormous icebergs around Disko Bay, as well as the icefjord close to Ilulissat (one of the most active glaciers in the world), was unreal.
What was Greenland like?
While every country is different, Greenland is special. I had already visited a lot of Arctic destinations during the winter time: northern Norway, the Swedish Lapland, Finland, Iceland, etc., but this place was entirely different: it’s so isolated from the rest of the world, especially the small villages that we visited with our boat. There are no supermarkets, hospitals, etc… The people help each other and there’s a strong sense of community.
What did you want to capture about the country?
I was, of course, interested in capturing the stunning icebergs and glaciers around Ilulissat, but I was also intrigued by the people living there, and frequently asked people I met on the streets if I could take their portraits.
I also wanted to capture our sailing adventure during the Midnight Sun. Daniel and Iurie organized this voyage on an incredible boat with red sails, which we used every night to explore iceberg territory in Disko Bay. After realizing how photogenic the sailboat was, we rented another boat for two nights in order to shoot the red-sailed boat in front of the icebergs. It was great because it gave scale to the icebergs.
Did anything about Greenland surprise you?
In the media, it’s common to hear a lot about climatic change, but nothing compares to seeing the effects of it with your own eyes. In Greenland, it is especially apparent; the ice is melting so fast, and big chunks of iceberg crash into the sea often, creating huge waves and even small tsunamis. The glaciers and the inland ice are receding at such a fast pace that it makes me a bit scared for our future. We have to wake up and do more to combat climatic change. Seeing the effects firsthand wasn’t a huge surprise, but after my visit to Greenland, I’m much more aware of and sensitive to the entire issue.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time in the country?
While I was there, the sun was barely visible during the day. In fact, during our stay, the margin between sunrise and sunset was, maximum, 20 minutes. The sky was colored by the cold temperatures and the sun deep in the sky; they created incredible shades that lasted for hours. That meant that we could calmly approach several spots with our cameras without being stressed, and take our time. Every night, we sailed through the icy fjords of Illusiat in search of spectacular ice formations, reflections, whales, and seals. We almost always found something spectacular.
On the first evening, a meter-high iceberg crashed into the sea right in front of our eyes, surprising us with a wave large enough to rock our boat. While exploring, we’d hear constant crackles, crunches, and bangs — the dull sound of an iceberg crashing can be heard for miles. Some of my fondest memories include visiting the locals and small towns around Ilulissat, all from our sailboat. On the penultimate evening, we even saw whales circling our boat. I can only hope that this film captured the unique atmosphere I was engulfed in.