Arctic Roll.

In a little over 2 months, on September 5th, I’ll be flying 3500 to Yellowknife in the North West Territories of Canada to shoot a 3 week photo-essay with writer Trevor Gibbs. I’d originally asked Trevor to manage a different project I was thinking about, based around the South West States of America, however, shortly after Trevor came on board we decided that we might as well make it a joint venture. After a couple of weeks researching the S/W States idea we came to the conclusion that America wasn’t for us, for now…

So, why choose Yellowknife? Well, I’ve always been interested in visiting and photographing the people who live a bit ‘out of the way’. We discussed Mongolia, toyed with Patagonia and flirted briefly with Kamchatka, a desolated peninsula of land in the far North East of Russia, but my interest always headed back to the Canadian Arctic. This is the part of the world that interests me the most, anywhere north of 60 degrees latitude – Alaska,Northern Canada,Iceland,Greenland,Northern Russia and Siberia…the cold bits, the desolate bits.

Yellowknife itself isn’t actually in the Arctic, it sits on the shores of The Great Slave Lake, about 250 south of the Arctic circle.I’m not sure how we’re covering that last 250 miles, I’m still trying to find-out if there’s any drivable roads? Trevor’s probably arranged to have us flown there on the back of a dragon, knowing his organisational skills.

This project differs slightly to our last collaboration, which documented the lives of the people affected and involved in the Solway Harvester fishing trawler tragedy. In that project Trevor’s words were captions for my images and my images were illustrations to his text, the two supported each other. In this project my photos and Trevor’s words will work together, but will also stand on their own as individual entities. I’m going to Canada to take photos, but I’m also going to be shooting video for a short documentary, writing my own words for various blogs and magazine articles and my own daily log which I hope to publish on our return.

I’m shooting the project on film, which to be honest, has proved to be a bit of a logistical nightmare! After 3 weeks I’ll have 130 exposed rolls of Fuji Pro 400H and Kodak Ektar 100 to get back to the UK for developing. I’ve bought the film from the US, mainly because it’s half the price than Canada, and had it shipped to Yellowknife. I’m going to risk the two x-ray passes and bring the film back to the UK and have it developed at Peak Imaging in Sheffield. I could have the developing done in Calgary, but would you trust such an important project to a company you’d never used before? Me neither.

A lot of people ask me, with some amazement, why I’m shooting film, would it not be easier to shoot digital? Yes, it probably would, but I prefer film.

Hardware – my two primary cameras will be the Mamiya 7II (6×7 cm) and Mamiya 645 pro TL (6×4.5 cm) I’ll also be shooting film on a Holga 6x6cm. I’m taking a Canon 5D MK2, mainly to shoot video, but I’ll probably shoot stills on that too. And of course there’s the iPhone 4s for stills and video.

So, I’m pretty much ready to roll, I think?

Yellowknifer, Amber Fandrick, now living in London


  1. Rab Mair

    I’d send a test roll of each type of film to the UK through the x-rays first, just to be sure. It’d be awful to develop them and find they’ve been trashed. Sounds like an ace project. Best of luck!


  2. PK

    Hey Phil, sounds like a great project. Couple things:

    -You can buy a lead travel bag to protect the film canisters.
    -Why is film the right choice to tell this story, apart from your obvious love of the medium?
    -Isn’t 130 rolls of film egregiously expensive to process?

    Just curious.


    • Hmmm, I don’t know how to answer without sounding like a pretentious artist!?

      – I shoot better images on film, I want every individual shot to be unique. I can’t do that with digital.
      – The cost of the film and processing isn’t huge -£500 on film and £1300 on processing. It’s already paid for.


      • PK

        Don’t worry, there’s nothing pretentious about expressing your preferences, my friend. Do you feel you really get better images with film or is it that you feel more engaged when you shoot it? I often find that when I’m shooting film I think more about what I am doing, as opposed to “finding” the shot with a DSLR


      • Yes, definitely. When I’m shooting film I’ll shoot one photo, possibly two if the lighting is tricky, never more. But I take a lot longer to get that photo, taking more time to compose the image. I also never crop negs in post, what you see is what came out of the camera.
        With digital I tend to be a bit more ‘slap-dash’, taking 5,6…30 frames of the same subject. I view digital as an almost disposable medium.


      • PK

        Don’t you think it that it ultimately says more about your process than about the medium itself? I think if you apply the same discipline to your DSLR you will be happier with the results. I love film myself (just got a brilliant roll of Velvia 100 back from the lab yesterday) but I think that these medium debates are a trap for an artist to fall into. It’s really about the work. I’ve shot some shitty images on film as well.


  3. Sounds like an amazing project! I have a childhood friend who is living up in Nunavut with her husband right now (he’s an RCMP stationed in a town there) and the pictures she has taken are amazing, it’s so beautiful up north. The place she is staying, I believe, is fairly geographically similar to Yellowknife – can’t wait to see what kind of work you come up with while you are there.


  4. Hi there!:) I am a freelance translator, living in Bulgaria. And I have just finished my last translation which is about The northwest territories, about Canda, Manitoba and Nunavut and many other places. I am absolutely in love with what I read about these places. Since Never Cry Wolf I’ve always been very much into Canada. I hope that one day I will see it all myself:) I like your post and your “I prefer film” statement:) I, too, used to shoot film but then this annoying digital thingie came out so I had to quit the film (it became way too expensive here in Bulgaria). I still thing that I did my best shots using analogue camera and film and that these have something which new digital cameras do not. Good luck!


    • As a Canadian from Ontario, it will be interesting to see your perspective on Yellowknife. I’ve only traveled Canada as far as Montreal, Ottawa and St. John’s NL,


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