Library and Archives Canada
In partnership with the National Gallery of Canada
From the times of early exploration, the Arctic has excited the European imagination. Inspired by its land and people, artists have rendered the Arctic as a desolate region of austere and sublime beauty where stolid icebergs float in empty grey seas, and barren mountains rise imperiously from icy waters. Photography added exponentially to this cultural cache of imagery. Explorers, whalers, artists, ethnologists and geologists used the medium to express their many different visions and experiences. Documentary photographers confirmed beliefs in sovereignty over what was termed terra nullius: the erroneous idea that the north was empty and could be occupied by Europeans. Pictorialist photographers indulged in romantic ideas of a primal land unsullied by industry, its people untouched by the nefarious influences of civilization. Often these two modes of photography mingled. Imagery was disseminated in diverse ways, through government reports, personal albums, books, magazines and lantern slide shows.