DEEP FOREST STORIES
December 15, 2016
With assault rifles slung over their shoulders, the fresh-faced Norwegian border guards looked bemused to have company at their remote outpost. The guards, one man, one woman, were stationed at the tri-border point where the national boundaries of Finland, Norway, and Russia converge amidst an old-growth pine forest. To get there requires navigating 30-kilometers of boggy dirt road followed by a five-kilometer hike straight uphill.
The visitors were renowned documentary photographer Jeroen Toirkens and journalist Jelle Brandt Corstius. They’d just begun a four-year project, Borealis, to document the changing natural environments of forests in the Northern Hemispheric boreal zone, as well as the stories of people who live and work in the pines across northern Scandinavia, Siberia, northern Japan, the Scottish Highlands, Canada, and Alaska.
In the fall of 2015, Toirkens traveled to Little Diomede as part of an artist residency with the Anchorage Museum’s Polar Lab. Borealis is his latest Polar Lab project.
“The forest is a place where you can feel safe surrounded by tall trees, the soothing rustle of the leaves, the coolness on a hot summer afternoon. But the forest is also a place that can be mysterious, even frightening,” states Toirkens. “Since our ancestors climbed down from the trees on the savannah, humanity has been fascinated by the forest. In eight trips, [for Borealis] we will describe the physical forest in words and pictures. But also we’ll search for the philosophical significance of the forests around us. What is it like to be a person experiencing life in deep forests?”
Toirkens is well known for his ongoing Nomadslife project, which he began in 1999 to document the lives of nomadic people in Central Asia, Russia, and Mongolia. Resulting work has been published in newspapers and magazines around the world. In 2005 and 2006, as part of Nomadslife, Toirkens and Corstius lived with nomadic Sami and Nenets indigenous peoples in arctic Russia. Corstius wrote an extended essay for Toirkens’ award-winning first book, NOMAD, published in 2011.
The first of eight trips for Borealis began in late May 2016 with a journey to Pasvik National Park in northern Norway. A few days later, Toirkens and Corstius posted video of their visit to the Norwegian tri-border post to the project’s online journal. (A separate, 360-degree video of the tri-border GPS point is viewable here.)
In September 2016, Toirkens and Corstius traveled to Japan to make photographs and gather stories in the Tomakomai Experimental Forest , managed by the University of Hokkaido. A section of the forest is heated to five degrees Celsius above normal to allow scientists to study the effect on trees and soil of impending climate change.
A Borealis project article covering the Norway trip is scheduled to be published in the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw in January. A second article, about the experimental forest in Japan, is to be published in February, also in Trouw.
Toirkens and Corstius are scheduled to begin their third trip for Borealis in the Scottish Highlands in February 2017.
The collaborators are underwriting Borealis in part through crowdfunding. Subscribers to the project receive a wooden case designed to hold the final product – a book of photography and writing to be published in 2020 – as well as spaces for postcards, handwritten notes and “relics” from the deep forests of the north.
For subscription information, click here.