Ragnar Axelsson has dedicated his career to the subsistence hunters, fishermen and farmers of the circumpolar area that live on the fringe of the habitable world. Since the early 1980’s he has travelled to the Arctic, documenting the lives of the Inuit hunters in Northern Canada and Greenland, the farmers and fishermen in the North-Atlantic region and the indigenous people of Northern Scandinavia and Siberia. His stories have appeared in print media publications such as Time magazine, Life, Stern, GEO, Polka, Wanderlust, Geographical and Newsweek, and are the subject of his major photography books: Faces of the North (2004 – republished in an extended version in 2015), Last Days of the Arctic (2010) and Behind the Mountains (2013). Behind his oeuvre is a strong conviction that the traditional culture of the Arctic people is disappearing and will not be able to resist the disrupting effects of larger forces of economy and climate change. In 2011 a documentary on his work was released, Last Days of the Arctic – Capturing the Faces of the North, produced by BBC4, NDR, ARTE and ITVS.
Axelsson’s three major photography series are narrative photo collections, spanning more than two decades each. In Faces of the North (2004) he focus on the lives of individuals in remote areas in the North, whereas in Last Days of the Arctic (2010) he contrasts the wider global context of climate change with stories of subsistence hunters in Greenland and Canada. In his latest series, Behind the Mountains (2013), Axelsson presents 100 photographs to draw together his 25-year-long engagement with a small community of farmers and their annual sheep round-up in the Icelandic highlands. The Faces of the North series was widely exhibited, including exhibitions at the Recontres d’Arles Photo Festival (2001) and Alfred-Ehrhardt-Foundation, Cologne (2005). The Last Days of the Arctic exhibition has been travelling around Europe since 2010 and has, among other venues, been shown in Reykjavík, Dublin, Bergen, Lübeck, Milan, London, Saarbrücken and Brussels.
Ragnar Axelsson was born in Iceland in 1958 and started his training as a photographer at the age of 16 in a traditional photographic atelier. At 18 he was already a staff photographer at the leading Icelandic newspaper, Morgunblaðið, and has ever since continued his lifelong documentation project on the fate of the people and nature of the North.