Only Barely Still
The ongoing project Only Barely Still brings together analog images and handwritten letters by women living in the arctic archipelago of Spitsbergen.
The Arctic was never considered a proper place for women. Throughout history, women have been deemed unfit to deal with the challenges of autonomous life in the public realm, let alone with the dangers of the isolated wilderness. Non-indigenous people to the Arctic have long conceptualized the polar region as a barren, inhospitable landscape where only the toughest men could survive. Built into this affirmation of the adventurous and engineering nature of men is the systematic refusal of women into the Arctic world. This frame of mind is also reflected in the body of stories and literature set in the circumpolar region: women are mostly absent, and if they do happen to make an appearance, they are classified as man’s inferior companion, as an exception, or as not in their right mind.
At the same time, the Arctic has traditionally been gendered as feminine in the Western world. Initially, it was regarded as a region to be conquered and penetrated, as a male territory that had to be brought into submission. Whereas this view has shifted in post-colonial times, the Arctic is still considered feminine and now collectively imagined as a pure, pristine place needing our protection—a barren, virgin land in distress. By imposing on it a passive identity as an object of desire, this one-sided and simplified view is not aligned with reality. The project Only Barely Still aims to propose a different narrative of the Arctic and its collective imagery. By standing on the axis of two misconceptions – about the Arctic on one hand and the women in it on the other – it wants to capture their synergy respectfully.
Catherine Lemblé (b. 1990) is a photographer based in Brussels, Belgium. She received her MA in Photography from Luca School of Arts Brussels and self-published her first book Cabin Fever in 2019. Her work focuses on the ever-changing relationship between man and the natural world.