Tasiilaq, Greenland 2015
In my early career when I specialised in sports photography, I was fortunate to work within many of the great football stadiums of the world. Representing the London Times at the World Cup Final at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City in 1986 was one clear highlight. That memorable final between West Germany and Argentina was played in front of 120,000 and I luckily captured a moment in time with Maradona after the match.
The sport has remained a large part of my life ever since that epic occasion, but I have long since stopped working from the touchline and prefer to enjoy watching games like almost everyone else, rather than recording them as part of the accredited media scrum.
Football has become a global game and stadia are a constituent of almost every urban settlement in the world. I have a peculiar fascination with football grounds and whatever outpost in the world I may visit, I do tend to gravitate towards the local stadium, no matter how primitive or modest it may be. In my mind, it provides an immediate insight into the essence of a place.
The most remarkable football pitch I have ever seen is in Tasiilaq in Eastern Greenland. I first visited this very basic village of 2000 people in 2007 and was seduced by the setting of chocolate box houses and icebergs nestling below a formidable mountain range. At the heart of the community lay a football pitch – almost incongruous for a village that appeared to exist right on the edge of civilization.
On this first visit to Tasiilaq, I took a decent image on a film camera, though I accept that it is such a spectacular canvas that it is actually hard not to take an engaging picture. But on this occasion, I had visited in August and by then much of the snow had melted on the mountain backdrop, which narrowed and dumbed down the tonal range of the image. In retrospect, I also paid too much attention to the pitch itself and not enough to the life that was going on around it. It was a hurried first encounter and the picture lacked the immersion and detail that can prompt further questions.
I now understand the virtue of an assignment built around just one image. This year I have constantly studied the Tasiilaq panorama on available local web cams and travelled up in June knowing that the big thaw was still in its early stages and that the mountains would be a blend of blacks and whites. To go earlier would risk losing the detail of the football pitch because of the snow cover in the village. I travelled with camera gear designed to record the simple life that was going on not just on the pitch, but also on the areas around it. I needed this detail to be strong enough to be integral to the image and not be ancillary to anything happening on the pitch.
Big pictures can be looked at for a long time and I believe that “A Simple Life” achieves this goal. I can count 27 people in the picture – all of whom probably do live that simple life. I wonder how many of these locals have actually ever left Tasiilaq? It is, after all, cut off from the outside world for half the year – boat supplies have to wait until the sea ice melts in May.
There is contentment and calmness about the villagers that is instructive and humbling for those of us with more hurried and more aspirational lifestyles. The villagers of Tasiilaq do not want for luxury restaurants, overseas family holidays or fast cars, they are happy with a life of repetition and mundane conformity because of the power of the family unit. This studied picture maybe therefore serves as a prompt to us all.
Can a photograph be both conceptual and literal? Well I would argue that it can. This is a literal image – there is no metaphor being sought. But its genesis was conceptual – I wanted to convey that the concept of simplicity and routine has no home and indeed can be at its most pronounced at the edge of the world.