Everybody wants to assign the most obvious ideas to images. The most obvious idea about melting ice is human folly. It’s the destruction of the environment. It’s all the things we’re doing wrong. But these images aren’t a commentary on global warming. I didn’t think about global warming once while we were up there. I didn’t really think about people at all.
Sometimes ice melts and refreezes. Glaciers freeze and thaw. The Ruth Glacier is shrinking, but not as visibly as some glaciers in other parts of Alaska or other parts of the world. The dark stuff in the frames is silt that blows off the surrounding terrain. It gets covered by snow, then the snow melts. Over time, stripes form. Over time, the glacier crushes in on itself and curves in on itself as it heaves and breaks and bends. The ice pushes off the walls of the gorge toward the center, and rock accumulates in a long, black band. A medial moraine. It’s natural.
We traversed the upper glacier by skis and sled through a crazy whiteout. In the first frames, the horizon line was gone, erased—annihilated. It wasn’t anything I did with my camera. It was the conditions. You forget yourself when it’s like that. You don’t know where you’re coming from or going to. There’s no reference. There’s no timeline. There’s just motion. We were just walking through an endless white plane with no dimension, and then we arrived at these jeweled pools, these solitary pools of blue that appeared in the whiteness. There was also a stream, this tiny blue ribbon. So we followed it.
Halfway down the glacier and lower, it cracks and moves. There are dramatic breaks, huge spires, canyons to cross. It’s the active zone. It’s a living thing. You’re walking along a living river of ice, and it makes noise as pieces break off or rocks crash down onto the glacier from the surrounding cliffs. It’s carving a path between these massive granite walls. There’s also a constant crunching sound under your own feet. It’s pretty solid ice, but there are little crystals that sit on top, along with the black silt. It has texture, little points. It’s not slippery. You could run on it. You could ride a bike on it.
Some forms repeated themselves over and over in the ice. One pattern looked like wood grains or tree rings, concentric curving lines of dirt compressed into the oval shape of an eye. The pattern appeared at random. There were also waves of crevasses, this repeating crescent shape. There were occasional boulders perched on thin flutes of ice. There were wormholes, some filled with water, some drained, dropping straight down hundreds or thousands of feet into the glacier, deeper than the light could travel.
We camped on the glacier. I’d never slept on ice. It was cold as fuck. You cram as many people into the tent as you can so it’s warmer. But I don’t really want to talk about that. It’s not about what people experience. It’s not about us. These images aren’t about us.
I’d rather think about these photographs as something more abstract. When I look at them—especially the ones that annihilate the horizon—they remind me of charcoal drawings. They’re not in reference to the human experience. We can try to interpret the glacier as a line and say this line creates a path. We can project ourselves into the idea and decide we’re the ones who are walking that path. But it’s not for us. Environments like this are alien to us in every way.
This isn’t the kind of beauty that’s easy to talk about. It’s a place devoid of life. Everyone imagines this part of the world as pristine, white. People seem to find beauty in this, in a place where life isn’t meant to be, where we aren’t meant to be.
We have this idea of true north. It’s the metaphor of us knowing what matters, knowing what’s worth saying and doing—the compass of our lives. But that’s not the north in these images. This is an anchorless space. You can’t get your bearings in a place like this. You’re not supposed to.
—Aaron Huey, as told to McKenzie Funk