Neige Noire

In 1931, the famous Inuit novelist Augo Lynge imagines Greenland in 2021 as a land of cocoon inserted in a happy globalization and in symbiosis with the former Danish colonizer. In 2021, on the occasion of the tercentenary of this colonization, a father (photographer) and his son (writer) put their steps in his own to confront the Greenlandic society of today. What happened to his dream?

The photographer Olivier Laban-Mattei chose black & white to recreate the universe of light and shadow of an Arctic territory disrupted by climate change. In Greenland, the snow turns black when it comes into contact with pollution. But this blackness is also that of the enigmatic and tormented souls whose path he has crossed.

The writer Lisandru Laban-Giuliani has chosen the novel of anticipation to explore the future under tension of a country at the crossroads, as its inhabitants describe it, fear it and desire it. From the testimonies and stories collected on the spot, he weaves a narrative as intimate as it is gripping of the possible futures of the island. 

These two singular views interact to allow us to understand in depth why and how Greenland alone condenses all the current global issues.

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BLACK SNOW by Olivier Laban-Mattei and Lisandru Laban-Giuliani


 

BLACK SNOW by Olivier Laban-Mattei and Variations in Major Solitude by Lisandru Laban-Giuliani are a photo book and a novel of anticipation and two views to tell the story of the Greenlandic people in its wandering and its fragility, while it is tossed between dreams of independence, consequences of climate change, social problems and appetites sharpened by the great powers.

If Olivier Laban-Mattei’s photographic work testifies in black and white to these societal ruptures, Lisandru Laban-Giuliani’s novel explores the future of a land and a people, which echoes the situation of so many other “small peoples” confronted with environmental upheaval and the diktat of a distant state. 

Photographing the life of the Greenlanders of today and telling the story of tomorrow, far from the usual images, is also, by extension, questioning the future of us all.

And, beyond its documentary richness, this four-handed project proposes an original reflection on the transmission between generations.


>> Photographing the reality of Greenlanders’ lives to better understand the dynamics of their society

Olivier Laban-Mattei documents in Black Snow the evolution of Greenlandic society confronted with climate change, foreign covetousness and a worrying social situation. 

Alternating landscape photographs and portraits, widening the view or getting closer to the faces, he invites us to imagine the meanderings of these subtle souls so enigmatic for the foreign observer, and to take seriously the stigma of lives built in violence: a harsh climate, a politics subjected to diktat, geographical distance, the loss of traditional values, the irreversibility of the melting ice…

This photographic work is reinforced by a well-documented journalistic text and captions, written by Olivier himself, which allow us to grasp the complexity of the issues at stake and to detail the trajectories of those they photograph as well as the underlying forces of each of the situations shown.

 

>> Imagining their future and transmit their doubts, fears and hopes

On the basis of the testimonies collected during their journey, Lisandru Laban-Giuliani set out to write a multi-voiced narrative that would be faithful to all of the concerns and aspirations that he wanted to echo. Through fictitious characters who borrow a lot from the men and women they met, he tries, inspired by the work of Augo Lynge, to draw the contours of the future Greenland.

 

 


>> Greenland today: a fractured society facing the desire for independence 

Despite increased autonomy since 2009, the stigma of colonization remains and is reproduced against a backdrop of high inequality and deep social unrest. The suicide rate among young people is the highest in the world. The population (56,000 inhabitants) suffers from a lack of psychological help, especially to cope with addictions. Isolated fishing villages are being emptied in favor of the three main cities. In the capital, the housing shortage leaves hundreds of newcomers homeless. Everywhere, mining projects are multiplying thanks to the retreat of the winter ice pack, often accompanied by promises of income that would be sufficient to emancipate themselves from the Danish economic tutelage, even if it means sacrificing part of the territory. Some villagers, as in Narsaq, are organizing themselves to prevent the establishment of huge mines. However, mining activities are a crucial issue for Greenland, since they would allow it to free itself from Denmark, on which the island is very dependent financially.

And, in July 2022, while the ice cap has lost 4.7 million billion liters of water in the space of twenty years, contributing to a rise in the oceans of 1.2 centimeters (data published by the Polar Portal, an umbrella organization of Danish Arctic institutes), the island now authorizes the exploitation of its icebergs like any other mining resource …

 

>> Greenland today: marginalized citizens

During several months of travels on the west coast of the largest island in the world, Olivier and Lisandru met a great diversity of people from civil or political society. Fishermen, carpenters, workers, businessmen, psychologists, hunters, shepherds, artists, pensioners, school dropouts, in isolated villages, but also ministers, mayors, senior civil servants, activists…

On this immense land where humans are so rare, each encounter is an event, each exchange is memorable. All of them embody the Greenlandic society of today and will make the one of tomorrow. 


>> Why this title, Black Snow?
To show a harsh, violent social reality.
But to listen to the hopes of those who believe in the Greenland of tomorrow.

In Greenland, the snow sometimes turns black because of atmospheric pollution, like an indicator of the state of the planet. It is said that the glaciers carry the memory of the world within them. In the same way, the Greenlanders, in the front line of climate change that disrupts their relationship with the world, are the sentinels of our common future.

Through the photographic image, Oliver tried to give a glimpse of the weight of the ambient psychological malaise, echoing the ancestral Inuit myths that continue to build the local imagination.

Immortalizing the lives of ordinary people is also a way of disturbing the easy image of a virgin land promised to mining wealth, and reveals the complexities of an aching society. Behind the infallible smiles, the darkness of silent evils is revealed. Beyond the breathtaking landscapes, the fragility of a tormented world is revealed.

See the whole photo series here.

 


>> The Book

Release date: we expect to publish the book in April 2023.

The artistic direction of the book was entrusted to Valerie Gautier. She took care to create a dialogue between the story told by Olivier Laban-Mattei through the photographic narrative and the texts he wrote to punctuate it. These long, literary texts respond to short, journalistic texts that take up the highlights of Greenland’s society, economy and history.

Two different papers will be used.

 

Non-contractual visuals, model in progress

 

 

Photos availables as a print


Piezo Charcoal printing on Hahnemühle Bamboo paper 290 g


>> The authors: a project that is part of a continuity of work 

The Black Snow project follows the work that Olivier and Lisandru have already undertaken in Mongolia between 2012 and 2014 under the title “Eldorado does not exist”. From this investigation on the harmful effects of the mining boom, they made a book “Mongols”, published in 2013 by Les Belles Lettres).

Lisandru won the Max Lazard prize for this writing project on the future of Greenland.

Olivier showed a selection of the images from Black Snow at the last Rencontres d’Arles in the exhibition of the MYOP agency of which he is a member.

 

Olivier Laban-Mattei has been a photojournalist since 1999. After ten years at AFP covering national and international news (wars in Iraq, Georgia, Gaza, insurgency in Iran, earthquakes in Java and Haiti, cyclone in Burma …), he engages, from 2010, on long-term projects. 

Member of the MYOP agency since 2013, he continues to be interested in war trauma among refugee populations (Jordan, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, South Sudan) while at the same time continuing his regular collaborations with the French and foreign press (Arab Spring, wars in Libya and Yemen…). 

His work, internationally recognized, has been awarded many times, including three World Press Photo, two Paris-Match awards, two POY, two Days Japan. He is also regularly exhibited and screened, in particular at the photojournalism festival Visa pour l’Image.

He devotes most of his current reflection to the question of the destructuring of societies, due to war, global warming or the greed of foreign investors for the riches of their lands. The new forms of colonialism are also at the heart of his concerns.

In 2022, winner of a grant awarded by the Ministry of Culture and the National Library of France as part of a major national commission on France, he looks at the new peasantry, guarantor of a fairer world.

 

Lisandru Laban-Giuliani is a master’s student in political science at the School of Research at Sciences Po Paris (Comparative Politics major) and a lecturer in method at the same school. He is therefore co-author of the book Mongols (Les Belles Lettres, 2013). 

Since 2016, he has been involved in several associations helping exiles and the most destitute, as well as for the protection of the environment. 

His passion for writing, nourished by meetings with various writers including Patrick Chamoiseau or Mathias Enard, is developing in parallel with his training in human and social sciences. 

In 2020, he was awarded the special mention of the Books Critics Prize. In addition to the Max Lazard Prize for his writing project on the future of Greenland, he also won the Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet Foundation Vocation Award for his study projects.

 

“From the North comes the darkness”.
Kelly Berthelsen, Greenlandic writer

Kelly Berthelsen makes us discover through her literature an anguishing but real world, where the desolation of men resounds even in the bruises of the agonizing glaciers. The Inuit society falters. Living for centuries in a permanent effort to arm themselves against the rigors of the immediate present, adapting to the hazards of their environment and never worrying about a fundamentally cyclical future, the Greenlanders must now turn towards an uncertain tomorrow, with the independence of their country as a horizon. A major rupture in the structures of collective thought.

 


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