Solargraphy & Pinhole photography in the Arctic

by Udo Prinsen Customer story

During the SEES NL expedition to Spitsbergen, Udo Prinsen has been ‘painting with sunlight’ and used analog methods of photography and film in order to capture the cultural and historical aspects of the cruise. This is an excerpt of his 14 day log book.
Antarctic Peninsula

Ship: m/v Ortelius

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Svalbard

Solargraphy & Pinhole photography in the Arctic

Taubanesentralen, Longyearbyen, exposure time 2 months

A big Glaucous Gull is staring at us from outside into the breakfast room. He has been there every day since we arrived, peeking through the glass on our wonderful selection of bread, cheese, meat and eggs. In almost every cafe terrace on earth you’d be welcomed by pigeons and sparrows, but none of that here. I am thinking Spitsbergen is the first place on earth that I have been to where there are no pigeons. Here at Polarrigg hotel everybody is happy to be on this side of the glass, this gull looks like he means business once you’re outside.

Hotel Polarrigg, exposure time 1 day.

Ready to leave

The breakfast room fills up with SeesNL participants. Everyone is excited and ready to leave, however we have to wait until the afternoon to get going. Some scientists are leaving early so they can start constructing the laboratory, which is set up on the vessel Ortelius as a working place for scientists during the Spitsbergen expedition. A temporary lab that will be deconstructed after the journey. A taxi is ordered for 15:00 to collect the luggage and the passengers; scientists, tourists and two lucky artists, me and actor/writer Ramsey Nasr. We feel a bit like the odd ones out as we have no science to bring to the table. But so far everyone has been very welcoming and we are definitely somehow part of the team. Like in days past, when an expedition would have writers and visual artists on board to bring reports back home. It’s a role that suits us fine, that’s what we are here for.

Ortelius beautiful in the fjord

The wait starts, some of us go walking, shopping, geo cashing or in my case, I am out to collect a few more pin-hole cameras. After a quick run around the mining cart station I decide to take a few shots of Super8 mm film from that place as it's higher up and the Ortelius looks beautiful in the fjord. During the first days in Longyearbyen, I had already been collecting some of the camera’s I had set out 2 monts earlier. I run to the post office to send the first batch of pin-hole camera's to Holland so they can be stored for further processing later on. It’s better to spread the risk of losing them, so this is the first group that gets send home.

Ortelius in Longyearbyen harbour. Pinhole photo, exposure time 15 seconds.

Finally to the harbor

Taxi is here! Finally we can all go to the harbor and board the zodiacs that will take us to the Ortelius. From the different hotels and the camp site in Longyearbyen everyone arrives at the platform and waits for things to happen. Maarten Loonen, the scientific expedition leader arrives as do the early pioneers of a Dutch Polar station in Kapp Lee, Edgeøya. Eric Flipse, Piet Oosterveld, Paul de Groot and Ko de Korte spent a year in 1968/1969 building a polar station and collecting all sorts of biological data. Now they are invited to return to the place they once stayed. Sadly Eric is not with us, he passed away in the 1970‘s. 


After all the luggage is on board, it's our turn. In small groups we board the zodiacs and are taken to the ship. There the zodiac slides next to a small platform where we are helped onto a stairways that brings us to deck three where we can enlist at the reception. The bags are already in my room when I enter it. A great room, a lot more luxurious than my personal need, but I had requested this one so that I can get started right away, creating long exposure photographs from my window. I have a lot of space to work on my project and the bathroom can operate as photographic dark room so I can create new cameras while we are on the water. I begin my sunlight painting experiment right away.

Ortelius deck 5, exposure time 7 days.

Sailing out of the main Isfjorden

The ship sails out of the main Isfjorden, turns left onto open ocean and we ‘hit’ a beautiful rolling swell that makes some people feel a bit seasick. I had no idea how I would respond to this as it is a first time on a vessel like this on an open ocean. Luckily, apart from ‘feeling drunk’ while I didn’t drink, there is no motion sickness present, I am actually noticing how much I like it.

A living breathing sea creature

The sound of the Svalbard cruise ship is something that adds to the experience. I love the creeks and squeeks around me when I move around on deck and through the halls and corridors. The mixture of wood and metal combined with the constant soft boiling of the engine make it sound as if the ship is alive. A living breathing sea creature that is protecting her cargo, a group of eager scientists that lie deep in her belly, rocking back and forth on the rhythm of the arctic ocean. My own sleep is fairly good that night. 

A lonely gull is drifting south, side by side with m/v Ortelius.

Ortelius deck 7, exposure time 7 days.

About the author

Udo Prinsen is a visual artist with a background in film and animation design. He participated as a member of the Sees NL expedition to Spitsbergen and Edgeøya hosted by Oceanwide Expeditions. During the voyage he has been ‘painting with sunlight’ as he describes on his website and used analogue methods of photography and film in order to capture the cultural and historical aspects of the expedition. 

Prinsen is captivated by this technique and is dreaming about creating a solargraphy storybook of vessels around the world and has many great plans. 

This is an excerpt of a 14 day log book. If you’d like to read about day 1-4 and follow the rest of the journey, the complete story with pictures, films and audio will be available through this link. You can visit his exhibition: Shapes of Time from 4 - 8 November 2015 during the InScience festival in Nijmegen. 

About the images

In solargraphy solar tracks can be directly recorded through a lensless pin-hole camera and ‘written’ on to light sensitive paper. The exposure time can be months, years. The images in this project have been exposed from several hours to just over 2 months.

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