Arctic conditions

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In pictures: Living near the Arctic Circle

Three years ago, the residents of Galena, in Alaska, were forced to abandon their homes when the Yukon River flooded the town. The Alaska Air National Guard and the National Army Guard evacuated around 300 residents from the surrounding area, many of whom eventually returned to find their homes no longer suitable for habitation.

Since then, the town has been rebuilt and one of the residents, Adriana Hevezi, invited British photographer Ed Gold to document the re-formed community having seen his book, Wales: Portrait of an Alaska Village at a friend”s house in Fairbanks.

Gold took up the challenge and set off to reach the Alaskan community. One of the first pictures Gold took was of the funeral of long-time Galena resident Sidney Huntingdon, whose casket was taken on sledges behind snow machines along the frozen Yukon River to the cemetery.

Gold spent more than six weeks in Galena, which is just 80 miles (130km) from the Arctic Circle, from late 2015 to early 2016, shooting on film. He chose to use a 35mm Contax II camera made in the mid-1930s and a Polaroid Pathfinder 110A from the mid-1950s, and found himself constantly battling with the effects of cold weather on equipment and film stock.

Image caption
The search for Andrew Henry

While there, Gold found himself helping residents search for Andrew Henry, of Ruby, who had gone through the ice on the Yukon River while travelling between Ruby and Galena. His body has not been recovered.

Gold”s portraits capture some of the residents, along with their personal history.

Jake Pogresbinsky

I came to Alaska in 1986 to look for work, any kind of work. There was a depression in Washington State so I came up here. I got sucked into adventuring straightaway so didn”t do any work.

Me and a good friend drove to Eagle. We had no money and ran out of everything but we built a raft and travelled down the Yukon River to Galena. The raft was 24ft long with a gas stove, a little house on it with a chicken coop and two chickens. We had hundreds of pounds of rice and beans but eventually we ran out. We”d stop at villages and hang out and let the chickens get used to land.

My girlfriend was pregnant and we asked for work along the way. Everyone said go to Galena as we”d find work there. We got here, jumped off the raft – I had already drawn up a sign saying “looking for work” and I put it in the liquor store. Within an hour, I had got work and I have been here ever since.

Kim and LaRee Ueeck

This house was built in 1971 by Jenie Olson, a teacher out here and it was raised about 3ft after the flood in 2013. The water was literally on my carpet.

We bought it as an abandoned house in 1994. It”s just one bedroom, it had been vandalised by kids, written all over the walls.

One of the main reasons I”ve stayed is I have really great people who I work with. It”s a great community – if you”re in need they”ll have a raffle for you and can raise over $5,000 in a night. There”s about 450 people here right now.

To live here, you need to be versatile, self-starters, self-entertainers. Hunting and trapping is right out your back door. Over the years, I have gotten to the stage where the dark and the cold in the winters has really gotten to me. It”s a great place to save money as there are no stores to spend but other items are twice as expensive so you have to tighten your belt.

Mike Hevezi and Ben Koontz

When the river decided to flood, that was the day change was beckoned.

My Mom was up here and she asked me to come up to help her out. She bought me a ticket. I told my boss and girlfriend I was going for a week. I saw a few weird things when I arrived like large icebergs on the side of the road and cars flipped over.

On the flight up, a guy asked what I can do and he offered me a job there and then for $25 an hour. I helped my Mom and a lot of others out and decided that moving to Galena was a good idea. My girlfriend moved up with me. Everyone”s a one-off here.

When you go outside you don”t know what you”re going to find. In the city, if you look at how people get their endorphins, they are totally entertainment-based from an iPhone or an arcade. Living here instils values within you which are useful to have in the first world, like survival.

I”ve learned how much more there is to learn about bush living but I don”t want to be here forever. I have a Ducati motorbike I want to travel on and I want to go base- jumping in other countries.

Ben Koontz (right)

There”s no billboards or adverts here. I think that the luxuries that people have come to expect are not sustainable here. A lot of things that are important become secondary concerns, like what to eat and where to get shelter. In the bush, we just get things done.

This is the last structure on the last road out of town for hundreds of miles. It”s right on the edge of town, to untouched wilderness.

Virginia Johnston

I was born in Nulato in 1927 and was adopted right after I was born.

I never knew who my real parents were until I was nine years old. I was on my way to school then my cousin, John Henry, ran up to me and said you have two moms and two dads. I got into a fight with him and pushed him then ran home. I told my stepmom and on the way to school the next day he said it again and that”s how I found out.

Once in a great while I”d see my parents but not stay with them.

In 1940, I went to Catholic school in Holy Cross for seven years. From Holy Cross, I went to Bethel and I got married and I didn”t come home for 36 years. I had 14 children. Only six are still living.

When I came home I had nothing and was lucky to get a job cleaning rooms at the firefighting department. I was divorced by then.

I have 103 grandchildren. They”re all scattered all the way down the coast to Anchorage and I have two or three great-great-great grand baby girls.

Andrew Huntington

I come from the Tanana village on the Yukon River, Alaska. My dad, Sidney, was half white and half Athabascan, his dad was all white – a miner from New York. My mother, Angela, is full Athabascan.

When I was 12, I”d watch the dog sledding on a TV and in 1972 I was a helper and handler for Carl, my brother, at the start of the Iditarod Great Sled Race at Anchorage town, a race he won in 1974.

I decided to try mushing eight years ago and I am the first deaf musher.

Kameron Reitan

I plan on going to college, to do something in the medical field as I like to help people.

My grandmother made my kuspuk [hooded top] this past summer, she does a lot of sewing. My mukluks [boots] have seal skin bottoms and are made from hide and beaver. My grandma got them for me and I”ve had them for two years, I wear them a lot to potlatches [traditional feasts] and cultural days at school.

The log cabin has been abandoned for as long as I can remember. It”s run-down inside with old possessions lying around. I went inside because I was just curious, it was kind of spooky in a way, I felt like I shouldn”t touch anything.

Tim Bodony

I have had this bicycle of over 20 years and, apart from my parents, this is the second longest relationship I”ve had with anything. That”s more or less true, I do have a sister also who qualifies as a longer relationship.

It was purchased in 1997 near my home town of St Charles, Illinois. I bought it at a time when me and my friends were interested in long-distance bicycle trips. I call my gloves “loose dogs” because there have been incidents when I have been wearing these mitts and dogs have run up and acted aggressively towards my gloves thinking that perhaps they are two dogs wanting to play.

Extreme cold plunge mitts are critical gear for me. Being functional here is all about having the right gear and having the right attitude. I wear a thin-lined glove under them and they”re usually too warm. Mentally it gives you a feeling that you have a fighting chance with these, that I will not get frostbite.

Joe Huhndorf

I started the retail hardware part of it in late 2012 and I”m just guessing I have about 20,000 items for sale in this store.

My customers in general are what we refer to in Alaska as a subsistence user, basically a householder who uses basic items to live off the land to survive. I sell these knives for processing fish and game. The bullets are .22 calibre. Their main purpose is for harvesting small game – upland grouse, spruce land grouse and ruffed grouse.

Brad Scotton

I”m a hunter and trapper and started when I was nine years old in Iowa.

Not that many people trap anymore. I think that 5,000 are licensed in the whole of Alaska. It is an exportable commodity in the world market so people do it for enjoyment and just being out of doors.

All photographs © Ed Gold.