“…They speak little but use dozens of different words to describe the white color and the many shades that their eyes can grasp in the blanket of ice and snow…”
Nicola Ducati’s Shades of White, tells the story of a nomadic group who have inhabited the remote tundras of Siberia for over a thousand years.
Italian native, Ducati, winner of second prize in our Visual Storytelling Award in January, discovered photography as a child, thanks to an old family camera which roused an inherent curiosity and ultimately led him to pursue the medium as a career.
Inspired by the likes of Steve McCurry and Sebastiao Salgado and galvanized by an inherent urge for discovery, he has spent his career traveling the globe, capturing those who inhabit its remotest peripheries: people whose traditions and culture are increasingly under threat.
“My work is inspired by the flowing of time and the desire to preserve the memories of those places and peoples that will soon give way to modernity. With my work I would like to tell stories of unknown people, physically remote but humanly close, creating empathy between the viewer and the subject, enhancing their elegance and authenticity. Today I especially like photography that tells but also lets you imagine, that moves and suggests reflections.”
Shades of White resulted from a trip Ducati made to the Yamal peninsula, a narrow strip of land that extends for some 700km off the northern coast of Siberia. It was here, Ducati encountered a group of Nenets, nomadic reindeer herders whose life is determined by seasonal cycles and the needs of their herds, and thus is one characterized by constant movement across the hostile landscapes of the world’s northernmost plains.
He spent ten days with the group, witnessing first-hand, their unique way of life: the deep interdependent bond they share with the land and their herd, underpinned by animistic, shamanistic beliefs. His images depict the Nenets on migration day, the various generations dismantling their temporary homes under the perpetual glow of the arctic sun as they prepare for another arduous journey across the wintry terrain.
“It is difficult to imagine how they express their thoughts, the existence they have is linked to nature, the Arctic land, seasonal cycles and their wealth represented by the flocks. The language they use is therefore very essential but also extraordinarily refined. They speak very little but use dozens of different words to describe the white color and the many shades that their eyes can grasp in the blanket of ice and snow that envelops their existence.”
Poetic yet forthright, and underpinned by an impressive eye for light and form, Ducati’s imagery collectively conveys the remarkable resilience of those who have forged a life in the most inhospitable conditions, but for how much longer?
Colonial intrusions, civil war and forced collectivization, are just some of the many monumental challenges that the group has faced over the years. Furthermore, in the decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, the allure of a more ‘modern’ existence has become too much for many young Nenets to turn down, leading them to migrate to cities further south. Yet today the group faces undoubtedly their most grave adversary yet. The dual threat of recourse extraction and climate change is rapidly destroying the very land on which their herd depends.
“…Being able to observe how the territory and their lifestyle are changing, seeing strength but also resignation in their eyes, makes it clear that the greatest challenge for the Nenets people is happening right now. A storm that is shaking their tents much more violently than any Siberian storm encountered so far…”
Yamal translates as ‘the end of the world’, in the Nenets’ native tongue, a fitting moniker for their isolated homeland. Yet it is one that can also be read as a rather grim double entendre, for the impact of the environmental destruction taking place will be felt far beyond this remote stretch of land.
As the permafrost thaws, it pumps billions of tonnes of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which scientists fear could mark a devastating tipping point in the fight against climate change, another stark reminder, if needed, of the importance of immediate, drastic action.
All images © Nicola Ducati