71.2906° N, 156.7886° W
Northernmost town in the United States. 320 miles above the Arctic Circle. The name translates to ‘place where snowy owls are hunted.’ No roads lead-in, no roads lead out. Flat as a board. No plants, no trees, no fresh food aside from what’s hunted: bowhead whale, seal, caribou, walrus, polar bear. Milk is ten bucks a gallon. An avocado, five. Polar Night. 65 days without the sun. Darkness brings darkness. Crime, substance abuse, and depression spike. Highest suicide rate in the country. Solastalgia is real. Police Department receives calls from disoriented citizens, not knowing the day or the time. Never have I heard snow like this. No moisture to it. Sounds like a shriek under the weight of the foot. And the wind. It’s so there, you forget it’s there. Nearly 40 below. Ten seconds and the bare skin hurts. ‘Three-dog-night’— a bygone arctic metric to define the intensity of temperature. The colder it is, the more dogs are needed surrounding you for warmth to survive the night. Freezing, but warming. Thinning ice can no longer protect the land from coastal storms. Disappearance of landmass. The town is washing away. This place is no joke. When midnight sun is replaced by polar night, everything’s different. Eyes to the horizon and it’s nothing. And then more nothing, in every direction. Just waiting for the sun to rise above it, so time can exist again.
Mark Mahaney’s Polar Night is a passage through a rapidly changing landscape in Alaska’s northernmost town of Utqiagvik. It’s an exploration of prolonged darkness, told through the strange beauty of a snowscape cast in a two-month shadow. The unnatural lights that flare in the sun’s absence and the shapes that emerge from the landscape are unexpectedly beautiful in their softness and harshness. It’s hard to see past the heavy gaze of climate change in an arctic town, though Polar Night is a visual poem about endurance, isolation, and survival.