The Fall

My second experiment with Digital Art. The story of the Fall of Man is well-known in the Christian world and beyond. Based on Chapter 3 of the book of Genesis, the Fall is the story of Adam and Eve, who lived in perfect innocence in the Garden of Eden with God until they were tempted by a serpent to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God had forbidden. Their eating from the tree marked the end of their innocence and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

Rethinking the Story about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and Fall of Man in Modern Terms
Composite image, background shot in Namibia – focal length 21 mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 320, tripod, foreground – Eve, Serpent and Fruits – shot in my Home studio.

I wanted to rethink this story in modern terms. There are scholars who see the story of the Fall not only as ancient act of hubris and disobedience, but as a choice repeated by each soul born into the world. I wanted to imagine the Fall as a story for the twenty-first century. We inhabitants of the modern world have our own tree of knowledge, in a sense; we have the global internet, which is capable of improving our lives immeasurably as well of immense harm. Progress always comes at a cost, and while the internet has advanced life in innumerable ways, it has also damaged us in perhaps equal measure.

For my reimagined Fall, I pictured the internet as the tree of knowledge, and its tempting — but potentially harmful — fruits are the applications that increasingly influence our lives — Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. I fashioned a lightning cable as a latter-day serpent slithering toward its guileless prey.

I recruited my wife to stand in as a modern day Eve. Like her Biblical counterpart, she is transfixed by this technological fruit, intrigued by the knowledge that it promises. (And it just so happens to be an Apple.)

This was a bit of an experiment for me, as I am practicing some new digital art techniques. It’s an interesting process and I hope you like the result, as well as my critique of modern technology.

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An Unexpected Meeting

My first experiments in Digital Art. This is composite image created from 2 different photos I made in different places – one in Bagan, Myanmar and other in my home studio in Moscow. Why? To tell the story I will never be able to photograph in reality.

What if our most deeply held beliefs only tell us part of the story? To people of faith, religion is sacred, its teachings passed from one generation to the next. Religious teachings provide us with a moral compass for our life here on earth and offer comfort in times of doubt and distress.

An Imaginary Visit of Young Jesus Christ to Buddhist Temple in India during his so called Missing Years
Composite image, background – panorama from 5 vertical shots, focal length 14 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 4 seconds, ISO 64, tripod, foreground – studio shot.

But our faiths are ancient and scriptures have been lost over the centuries, their teachings destined to be unknown. How can we be certain that what we know of our faith — Christianity, for example — is all there is to be known? What if there are other stories that have never been told? What if the life of Jesus is only partially known?

There are scholars who believe there is still much we do not know about the life of Jesus Christ. The New Testament is strangely silent on part of his life, the years from childhood or early adolescence until he began his ministry at roughly age thirty. As Jesus only lived to be thirty-three, it’s a span of time that encompasses most of his life. The missing years, as they are sometimes known, have intrigued historians and theologians for years.

There are those who believe that the young Jesus — before he began his ministry — might have traveled to India, where he was exposed to Buddhism and influenced by Buddhist monks. Some of you may raise an eyebrow at that possibility, but stay with me. We know there are similarities between Christianity and Buddhism. They both teach kindness and compassion and encourage lives of prayer and contemplation. Does it diminish the life of Jesus in any way to consider that he might have been influenced Buddhism? I don’t think so. I think the idea that one of the world’s greatest religions and one of its greatest philosophies were shaped by each other is a fascinating possibility — and maybe only that.

For this photograph, I tried to imagine the young Jesus encountering the Buddhist Temple in India for the first time. I imagined a young man, thoughtful and profoundly spiritual, slowly entering a temple, his eyes full of wonder and his mind full of questions.

Did it happen? I don’t know. But I’m intrigued by the possibility.

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Qaqortoq in the Evening, South Greenland

After spending several days in Tasermiut Fjord, our plan was to move on to Prince Christian Sound, which involved sailing out across the open ocean. But once again, Greenland had its own ideas for our trip. Shortly before we were due to leave Tasermiut, the captain got a weather alert about a coming storm and decided that it was too dangerous for the yacht to head out into the ocean. Our plans for Prince Christian Sound were scrapped and we spent three more days in Tasermiut.

Town of Qaqortoq in the Evening, South Greenland
Single shot, additional exposures for highlights, additional shot for moon, focal length 45 mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 13 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

I was disappointed, but it’s hard to be bitter when your surroundings are as beautiful as the fjords of Greenland. On the way back to Narsarsuaq, we made one last stop at the picturesque small town of Qaqortoq. Like many of Greenland’s towns, it’s lined with small, brightly colored homes overlooking the water. It wasn’t what we had planned, but again, it’s hard to be too disappointed when your surroundings are this lovely.

On the way to Qaqortoq, there is a natural pool with thermal water that is consistently 39 degrees Celsius, a welcome change after the bitterly cold temperatures outdoors. On our last night in Greenland, we gathered in the pool under a brilliant starry sky. The temperature outside the pool was a frigid 10 degrees Celsius, but we were warmed by thermal water and a bottle of white wine and the cold seemed very far way. And demonstrating once again how futile it can be to make plans, the Northern Lights put on a spectacular show that night, dancing above a thermal pool full of photographers who were too tired and tipsy to get out and retrieve packed-up camera gear. We didn’t even particularly mind that we were missing incredible shots of the Aurora Borealis; it was enough just to see them.

On our last day in Greenland, we photographed Qaqortoq just at sundown, with a sliver of moon suspended over the town. Greenland was an adventure and now it was time to head for home. My wife and I had packed all of our things and decided to make one last look through our cabin to make sure nothing was left behind. There was something left behind, as it turns out. In one of the cabinets, my wife found a very large and very dead rat, and one which I am certain was not there at the start of the trip. As I had not come to Greenland prepared to dispose of an animal carcass, I asked the captain for help. I suppose piloting a ship in the Arctic makes a person impervious to emergencies both large and small. He was utterly unperturbed and simply said, “An unauthorized passenger on my ship?” With little fanfare, the rat was given a burial at sea and we continued toward home, tired and rodent-free.

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Ulamertorsuaq Mountain in the Morning, South Greenland

Anyone who travels very much learns quickly that things don’t always go as planned. One of the great things about traveling is that it teaches you to think on your feet and to be adaptable. It also teaches you that your plans are often meaningless; you can plan a trip down to the last detail and nature or circumstances can undo those plans in an instant.

Ulamertorsuaq Mountain in the Morning, Tasermiut Fjord, South Greenland
Single shot, focal length 14 mm, aperture f/2.8, shutter speed 15 seconds, ISO 3200, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

The trip to Greenland taught me early on that plans weren’t worth much as I lay shivering under layer of clothes and blankets in the cold as the crew worked to get the boat running. And once we made it to Tasermiut Fjord, almost every day was a lesson in humility as we adjusted our plans to weather and circumstances.

One of my greatest wishes for the trip was to see the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. I’ve seen them in countless photographs, but I wanted the chance to photograph them myself. I looked forward to standing at one of the remote ends of the earth with the brilliant, ethereal lights pirouetting in the sky overhead. Early in the trip, the other photographers and I scouted a location that we thought would be perfect should the lights decide to make an appearance. After that, it was just a matter of waiting and hoping.

Several nights into the trip, the captain knocked on our doors and shouted, “It’s shining!” Groggy but excited, we all dressed in the darkness then headed to the Zodiac which would take us to the location we’d already pinpointed. The Northern Lights were bright overhead and just as beautiful as I’d hoped they would be.

But the lights were fickle. By the time we reached our location, they had faded so as to barely be visible. I was disappointed that I didn’t get the chance to capture them in a photograph, but we decided to stay and shoot some nightscapes, which were vivid and lovely even without the Northern Lights. I was grateful simply to have seen them.

Sometimes, things just don’t go as planned.

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Lonely Iceberg, South Greenland

Most of the people who go to Greenland are drawn there for its stark Artic landscape of icebergs and ice floes. It’s understandable that people — especially photographers — feel the pull of such places. The frozen landscapes at the Earth’s extreme points are breathtaking. There is a shade of blue in glaciers and icebergs that I have seen replicated nowhere else in the world.

Lonely Iceberg in the Morning, South Greenland
Single shot, focal length 24 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/250, ISO 200, handheld.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

But having recently come from the glaciers of Patagonia, I wanted something different from Greenland. I wanted to see the part of the island that is often overlooked, the green, tucked-away corner in the south. There are few places left in the world where humanity has not left its unmistakable touch; southern Greenland is one of those places. Exploring its landscapes, it was easy to imagine that ours were the first human eyes to see this place, the first voices to break its deep silences.

But as we sailed along the southernmost edge of the island, we encountered icebergs here and there, and even though I’d spent weeks among them in South America, they still had the capacity to inspire wonder. My plan for Greenland was to photograph the island’s lesser-known landscapes — its waterfalls and green mountain landscapes — but how could I not photograph them? Could any amount of time among them leave me inured to their stark beauty?

So I include among my photographs of southern Greenland an iceberg, perched like a lone sentinel at the edge of the world.

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Tasermiut Fjord in the Evening, South Greenland

As I said in an earlier post, Greenland was a challenge. Getting there was a challenge. Being there — while exhilarating — was also a challenge. But I hadn’t yet seen just how difficult the island could be. On our first couple of days in Greenland, our forays were limited to relatively short hikes away from the water’s edge, on terrain that was devoid of people but posed no serious impediment to our movement. But on our third day there, we encountered our first truly difficult experience on the island. It was also one of the most rewarding.

Tasermiut Fjord in the Evening, South Greenland
Single shot, focal length 16 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 6 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

Hiking in Greenland is different than hiking anywhere else I’ve ever been. The southern part of the island is almost completely forested and there are no trails or routes for hikers. Hiking in southern Greenland means that you are left to make your way through birches and moss and that the hike you think will take two hours may take twice that long.

As we moved onto steeper elevation, we found ourselves wading through dense birch forests on a sharp incline, all while carrying heavy camera gear in a backpack. My tripod, at least, was a help to me — as the incline became steeper, I used it as a walking stick to help me in my ascent.

After five hours of hiking up difficult terrain, we still had not reached the desired peak. It was tough going at this point — the slope was nearly vertical and making progress required climbing with both hands. I was grateful for the dense moss under my boots; there were places where it seemed the traction provided by the moss was the only thing keeping me from tumbling hundreds of feet to the ground.

The last light of day was beginning to fade and we had not yet reached the very top, but we stopped. After five hours of difficult climbing, we were determined to get photographs over Tasermiut, even if they were not exactly what we planned. With a newfound respect for the hardy people who make a home in Greenland, I set up my tripod and began photographing the fjord as twilight descended.

Back on the yacht, after what was undoubtedly the most difficult hike of my life, I opened two bottles of red wine I’d brought with me from the airport. If there was ever a time that I deserved some celebratory libations, my first real hike in southern Greenland was that time!

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Ketil Mountain in the Morning, South Greenland

Shortly after we arrived, southern Greenland had its first snow of the season. So I arrived there just in time to encounter a landscape dusted with hoarfrost, as if touched by the hands of fairies. Overnight, southern Greenland — magnificent in any condition — was transformed into a landscape of a fantasist’s imaginings.

Ketil Mountain in the Morning, Tasermiut Fjord, South Greenland
Single shot, focal length 17 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/4, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

On my first day in Greenland, I explored places that seemed never to have been inhabited. The second day’s explorations brought us to an even more remote part of the island where there are virtually no people, an area of almost pure wilderness. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what the earliest explorers to Greenland must felt as they stood in awe of a landscape that might have been created by the gods.

But no matter how stunned we were by our surroundings, we had practical matters to consider. For one, we had to find food far from inhabitable villages in Tasermiut Fjord. We brought food with us on the boat, but it was limited, which meant our meals would either be rather meager or would have to be supplemented by whatever could be found in the rivers and damp earth of Greenland. So each day, while the photographers were out shooting, the crew gathered mushrooms and caught salmon in the streams and cod in the fjord.

By the end of my second day in Greenland, I was adjusting to life away from civilization and modernity. The trade-off for leaving modern conveniences behind was worth it; I was largely cut off from the twenty-first century but in exchange for that I had been given a chance to experience a nearly unknown part of the world.

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Ulamertorsuaq Mountain, South Greenland

I was exhausted from travel and a mostly sleepless night in the cold, but as soon as we walked ashore at Tasermiut, I forgot about all of that. It was impossible to think of mundane concerns in the presence of such natural splendor. I’ve seen incredible places around the world, but the fjords of Southern Greenland have to be among the most epic locations I’ve ever photographed.

Ulamertorsuaq Mountain in the Morning, Tasermiut Fjord, South Greenland
Single shot, focal length 14 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 2.5 seconds, ISO 31, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

This part of Greenland is considered one of the Ten Wonders of the Arctic, and with good reason. Striking sapphire blue water is surrounded by formidable cliff walls — the “Big Walls” that are a prized destination for climbers. Hiking deeper into the landscape, you eventually reach cascades and waterfalls in a geography that appears untouched by human hands.

Tasermiut reminded me of Patagonia, particularly Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, the astonishing spires I’d photographed on that trip. The landscapes were so similar that I began thinking of Greenland as Northern Patagonia. In Patagonia, I’d imagined that I was seeing the most astounding example of nature’s handiwork, but Greenland proved me wrong.

This first foray into Tasermiut was shortly after dawn. In the early morning, it was a quiet, unpeopled place, and I could almost imagine that we were the first humans to touch this landscape. Getting to the cascades, like reaching Greenland itself, required some effort — we hiked for a half hour or so before we began to hear the rushing water.

Greenland was a challenge; nothing about it was easy. But by the end of my first full day there, none of that mattered. I was enthralled by the unspoiled beauty of Greenland and ready to see more.

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Tasermiut Fjord in the Morning, South Greenland

When I awoke in the morning, the yacht’s engine was repaired and running again and we headed out into open water. That day and the following evening weren’t much more restful than my first night on the boat had been; the sea was rough and the yacht, which wasn’t terribly warm even with the heating working, was cold as it pitched back and forth on the waves.

Tasermiut Fjord and Ketil Mountain in the Morning, South Greenland
Single shot, focal length 16 mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 0.5 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

The boat — designed to withstand Arctic conditions rather than to offer creature comforts — was spartan, with small spaces and very basic bathrooms. But I adjusted quickly — the point of the trip, after all, was to get to Greenland safely, not to relax in comfort on a luxury yacht.

Once we left the open sea and entered Tasermiut Fjord, which cuts a deep blue vein into Greenland’s landscape, our conditions were completely different. The water was calm and it seemed that we were sailing on a perfectly still surface. Remarkably beautiful and surrounded by two long, mountainous peninsulas, the fjord seemed a world away from the ominous waters of the North Atlantic.

Two days of choppy seas and little sleep had taken a toll on me. As we sailed into Tasermiut Fjord, I was weary and lightheaded. But as we boarded the Zodiac — a special rubber boat that would take us from the yacht to the shore — I also felt slivers of anticipation. This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a place most people will never see, and if I had experienced difficulties in getting there, I knew it would be worth it in the end.

I hadn’t left the yacht and I was already stupefied by the incredible landscape around me.

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Tasersuaq Lake in the Evening, South Greenland

My travels have taken me all over the world, but remarkably, the expedition to Greenland was the first time I’d ever found myself in a boat. As I had spent my entire life with my feet planted firmly on the ground, I had nothing with which to compare the yacht, but my traveling companions — five photographers, including Daniel, and four crew members — assured me that it was a boat like no other. Designed for safety and security in the formidable conditions of the Arctic, the Peter I featured a complete absence of comfort for its passengers.

Tasersuaq Lake and Tasermiut Fjord in the Evening, South Greenland
Focus stack from 2 shots, focal length 14 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/15, ISO 64, tripod.

You can buy this photo as Fine Art Print >>

I expected adventure on the trip, but I didn’t expect the adventures to begin before the trip commenced. We arrived at the yacht in the afternoon and our journey was to begin that night. As we prepared to set out, however, the crew discovered that the engine would not start. On a boat like this, the crew must be self-sufficient, and it was quite a spectacle, watching them open the floors and work on the engine throughout the night.

Calls were made to St. Petersburg and eventually someone from another yacht in Narssarssuaq was brought in to help with repairs. The crew worked through the night, and while they worked, the photographers slept — or tried to. We quickly learned that as long as the engine was not working, neither was the heating. And if you ever find yourself in a boat in the Arctic with no working heat, I assure you that it gets very cold!

I put on all the clothes I brought for the trip, then wrapped myself in two blankets and attempted to sleep. It was a mostly sleepless night, but at some point in the early morning hours, I drifted off into an uneasy rest.

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