The Arctic Prison was the name of my second story in the Arctic Circle, in the Finnmark region, in the northern part of Norway. The Arctic Circle was the baptism of photographic career. My first documentary as a photographer. I was the same man that I was the day before, but with a different commitment. With a new reason to escape.
I became aware of that part of the world, through a friend who told me one day about an article he had read in The Guardian about refugees from the Middle East who were making their way to Europe through Norway via Russia and the Arctic Circle. The article didn’t have photos and didn’t mention a lot more than that. I saw this as a great opportunity and personal challenge. It also felt really possible . I left for Russia a few weeks later, with no contacts and no place to stay, but a lot of energy, enthusiasm and foolishness.
I went to Moscow and started asking for information and contacts everywhere I went. In hotels, cafes, random people and anyone I met on my journey. All the while taking photographs and keeping a meticulous daily diary. I moved a lot and it was cold. I felt alone and struggled with self-doubt and hopelessness.
After a long journey that led me to Murmansk first and then Nikel, the northern most Russian city, I found them. That town was exactly like the hostile out-post Soviet town I anticipated it would be. Isolated in the middle of the Northern Mountains, with an unimaginably tiny population, and dominated by nickel factories emitting dark fumes that enveloped everything and everyone in the entire area.
Despite my struggles in coping with some serious corruption in northern Russia and the severe cold, from that moment on, things turned around. Every day I felt more that I was doing something important and many things had happen following the tale of positivity. I re-entered Europe in the company of many refugees through /Norway border with Russia but now with a different prospective. That moment was my beginning. My first lesson. I went back to the Arctic many times. For two years that small piece of land that is Finnmark became my place, even though I always felt it harsh and difficult to cope with.
During that time, I had the good fortune to meet many amazing people who shared with me their remarkable stories and allowed me to document them. I spent time with refugees in a remote village called Neiden, populated by less than one hundred people spread out over miles of thick snow in the middle of Finnmark. I documented their life during many long hours spent inside my hotel, while waiting for some good news about their future prospects and their struggles with boredom, cold and the unknown wilderness outside my hotel. My nearest neighbouring inhabitants then were at the gasoline station 30 miles away on the border with Finland.
I got arrested because I was telling that story, but that was a valuable experience too. While there I also got the opportunity to follow Europe’s longest dog sled race. 1200 km of pure adrenaline racing through in the wilderness, with mushers and dogs working together as I had never seen before. This was one of the highlights of my experiences up there. I returned to the area many other times, for small stories like the Salmon farming and the life of a young Sami. I’ve always felt scared of the Arctic, but now it would be the first place I would escape to.