16.08.2018 Tsutomu Endo

Exploration in Greenland

Tsutomu Endo

Tsutomu Endo started his career as professional photographer in 1998 and has been shooting snowboard scenes in Japan and around the world since. Based in Hakuba in the Japan Alps, he naturally gravitated to the backcountry, shooting in the mountains he has been exploring since childhood. Traveling widely, he has acted as an intermediary between snowboard culture in Hakuba and abroad. His recent work has moved beyond action sports into nature and art photography, searching for the beauty of our planet and highlighting changes to our climate and environment.

“Would I ever be here if it were not for photography?”
Sometimes I ask myself when I am abroad. The camera is my compass and it guides me to a place unknown. I think of my existence as I look through the viewfinder.

Photography is perhaps all about imagination of what one cannot imagine in head. It also must in print to see the beauty of it.
I dreamed about traveling to the Arctic. I thought about the place so much. And I knew it had to be GFX 50S to capture the magnificent landscape.

In mid-April, I left Japan, visited small villages in Greenland and reached the northernmost village where the indigenous people live. Inuits kept the hunter’s lifestyle since ancient times, but their traditional value is rapidly changing with time. In this settlement of less than 40 people, they are likely to be the last generation of the hunters. After a brief meeting, we decided to go several tens of kilometers northwest from the village for walrus hunting.

The weather was fine. I got out of the settlement for the first time in a week. I’ve pointed my camera to the grand scenery in front of me with excitement from the dog sled. We were on the hunting journey. It was not a photographic session, so I only had that moment to press the shutter for all the shots that I took.

I especially enjoy the manual dial operation of GFX, which is inherited from the film days. My hands feel just right and the camera becomes like an extension of my body. I want my camera to be simple and my photography to be honest. The compact mirrorless body with the traditional dial operation combined lets me forget that the camera in my hands is actually medium format and I got to enjoy the shooting experience in all circumstances.
The dogs stopped running after about 5 hours. The snow was 30cm deep and the iced surface made the dogs to move forward. We decided not to go any further and changed our destination. We headed to the northern shore where there is a hut that was built in the 1900`s as a base to go to the North Pole. We ran for about 2 hours and arrived to the hut by the evening.

The hut was half torn. We put the stove that we brought with us on fire and put the crushed glacier ice into the pot. We lay the feather that was used on the sled on the floor. This is where we will sleep for the night.

We were several tens of kilometers away from the village. We have no phone reception. We speak different languages and we live by different lifestyles. It was an exciting experience and a memorable one. We both tried to communicate somehow someway. I brought out “kendama,” a traditional Japanese toy from my camera bag, but their reaction was almost non-existent. Then, they brought out their phone and showed me photos of their past hunting trip. The conversation lasted for about 15 seconds, and then the silence continued. I then brought out a dictionary and they showed me how to speak some of their words. This lasted for about 5 minutes, but that was enough for us to feel comfortable. We understood each other well enough, and did not feel any discomfort in the confined space. They brought out their rifles to get ready for the hunt, and I brought out my camera and slowly pressed the shutter.

By catching a glimpse of Inuit’s life, I realized that hunting and photography is very similar. We both need to capture the target (subject) by understanding the circumstances that you are in. The tool that you bring with you is also very important for both sports. In the northern limits, we both needed a tool that is tough and quick.