‘Arctic Norway’ – A Photozine – By Alex Relton Brown

By Alex Relton Brown

This year I made a trip to visit a friend for the first time since he’d moved from the UK to Norway. I took my Hasselblad 501CM, Canon Sureshot A1 and a sack of Kodak colour negative film. My debut zine ‘Arctic Norway’ is the result.

The Trip

A bit of background; Cameron moved to Alta, a small town in northern Norway about 7 years ago and a group of us decided in late 2019 that an arctic expedition to visit him in his new home was long overdue so we booked flights for the next summer. Of course, then 2020 happened. Our flights were cancelled by the airline, borders were closed and all we could do was wait patiently to see if we were allowed to enter Norway. The Norwegian government released their list of countries from which they would allow visitors about 10 days before we were due to fly and thankfully the UK was on it! We scrambled to rebook flights, make some last minute changes to accommodation and car hire and off we went.

We stayed in and around Alta, an area with plenty of hikes through dense woodlands, past waterfalls and up to mountain peaks with pretty incredible views of the surrounding landscape. Cameron’s house is a couple of minutes walk from the edge of the fjord so we spent evenings eating and drinking by the water.

Greg, Cameron and Stoney by the water
An outtake from the trip; Greg, Cameron and Stoney at the edge of Altafjord – also featuring an unfortunate light leak!
A photo from Arctic Norway
Powerlines overlooking Sandvika, Sørøya

We also took a ferry ride to one of Norway’s largest and most beautiful islands; Sørøya. The landscape here was quite different to the mainland but no less spectacular! The mountain peaks were smaller and there were no trees but we took a hike to Nordsandfjorden, a secluded beach not accessible by road. Here there is a cave where 133 residents of the island hid from the German army in 1944. They stayed there for two weeks in November… In northern Norway. I could barely dip my feet in the water there in the height of summer!

Fishing boats moored in Sørøya
Fishing boats moored in Sørøya

Alta and Sørøya are both well inside the Arctic Circle and at this time of year, this far north, the sun never truly sets; sometimes dipping just below the mountainous horizon for a few hours around midnight. I had never experienced these conditions let alone photographed them. The long bright days gave way to some beautiful sunsets and then moved into a seemingly endless blue hour. I packed far more film than I would need and shot more freely than am I used to. The landscape and the lighting meant that wherever I turned there was a frame-worthy scene!

The Zine – Arctic Norway

An inside spread of Arctic Norway
An inside spread of Arctic Norway; a small lake called Paulsenvannet where we stayed in a nearby cabin

After the last few years of taking photographs I was becoming aware of the limited satisfaction I was getting from merely looking at my film scans on a monitor and posting to Instagram. I wanted to create a physical collection of my work but I didn’t have a cohesive subject or concept that I felt was worthy of a book or zine. Then I thought that a trip to such a beautiful part of the world might be just the subject I was looking for! My intention for the zine was not pure landscape photography as it might have been in such a stunning place but also to show some of the human infrastructure and how people live in this remote part of the world. As well as this of course I just wanted to document an amazing experience with good friends! Alongside the images I added the nine points of the Norwegian Mountain Code – thank you to Cameron for that idea!

A photo from Arctic Norway
A page from Arctic Norway; a river that meets the sea at Nordsandfjorden, Sørøya

The main camera I chose to use for the project was my Hasselblad 501CM and the 80mm Planar lens. It is an iconic camera that I’m sure needs little introduction but I am very comfortable using this setup. It is fairly compact for a medium format SLR and I love that square frame. I also knew that between the legendary Zeiss glass and the big 6×6 negative I would be capturing plenty of detail for the zine and for any large prints that I might want to do. I chose to exclusively use Kodak Portra 400 for the medium format shots. I wanted a consistent look across them and I figured Portra’s dynamic range and medium speed would be ideal – also those colours!

A view of Mattisvannet
A view of Mattisvannet

I also brought along my recently acquired Canon Sureshot A1; a cheap, plastic but waterproof 35mm point and shoot. This was for taking photos anywhere that I was too afraid to bring my beloved Hasselblad or just for snapshots throughout the trip. The lens is soft in the corners and the focus confirmation hardly inspires confidence so I didn’t exactly have high expectations in terms of image quality. However, the photos have a certain character which I really enjoy and some of them ended up being my favourites from the trip. In this camera I used a mixture of Kodak Gold 200 and Pro Image 100, cheaper colour stocks to Portra but still able to produce beautiful images!

A boat just off the beach in Sørøya
A boat just off the beach in Sørøya, an alternative version of the photo I chose for the zine’s cover
Sørøya through a window
Sørøya through a window; shot on Kodak Pro Image 100 with my Canon Sure Shot A1

A few more technical details about how I created Arctic Norway:

  • All film was developed in C41 chemicals by Colourstream Photo Lab in Brighton, UK
  • The film was digitised by myself using a Sony A7III, Sigma macro lens, pixl-latr film holder and Kaiser slimlite plano light pad
  • Digital files inverted using Negative Lab Pro
  • Further digital processing done by myself in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop
  • Zine layout and cover designed in Adobe InDesign
  • Zine published and printed by Kindle Direct Publishing

If you would like to purchase a copy you can do so here or if you’d just like to see some more of my work you can check out my Instagram.

If anyone reading this is thinking about creating their first zine or book, I really can’t recommend it enough! It was certainly challenging and frustrating at times but overall an incredibly satisfying experience.

Thanks for reading,

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Charlie Bierwirth on ‘Arctic Norway’ – A Photozine – By Alex Relton Brown

Comment posted: 30/12/2020

First off, love the photos! My wife and I want to go to Norway for a belated Honeymoon. Secondly, I had no idea Amazon had this service. Every year I make my mom a photo book of a compilation of my photos of the year and give it to my mom for her birthday. I use an online print service that typically runs me upward of $40-60 for a 25-30 page book. My wife is proficient on InDesign so building the book ourselves and going through Amazon may be in the race for next year.

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Alex Relton Brown on ‘Arctic Norway’ – A Photozine – By Alex Relton Brown

Comment posted: 30/12/2020

Thank you Charlie! I really can't recommend Norway enough, definitely some of the most amazing landscape I've ever seen! And yeah it sounds like Amazon will be perfect for your yearly photo books. I'll be creating some more for future trips just for myself and to share with friends.

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