The World's Edge Lands
Cape North

Photographs from Andrei Shapran's project
The World's Edge Lands
Cape North

Photographs from Andrei Shapran's project
Photography by
Andrei Shapran

Text: A. Shapran
Translator: Olga Erycheva (Ольга Ерычева)
Shot: November-December, 2015.
Published: 22.01.2016 (eng.ver. 2.03.2016)
The series "Cape North" is a part of the project "The World's Edge Lands". Andrei Shapran has been working on this project since 2005: about a year in the Southern Kuril Islands (in 2005-2006 and 2010), in Yakutia, Yamal, in Norilsk and Dudinka; three months on the north of Kamchatka (2007), in two expeditions in Chukotka (in 2008 and 2015).

Actually, these images do not need descriptions. I think, it is better to open them on the full width of the largest monitor available (doing it on a smart phone you will ruin the impression), and without saying a word, look, and look, and look at them. The images absorb into themselves.

When you scroll down to a video that posted in the middle of publication, the authentic howl of purga will sound on automatically. Do not be scared, keep scrolling down and the purga song will fade away.
Blizzards may howl here continuously for weeks, and you will not hear any other sounds in the entire space.

It seems to be clear that a human being can not live in these lands. And at the same time you feel, what a mighty, inevitably catching power they posses. As I think, knowing that the "end of the world" exists, it is impossible for a man not to aspire to those lands.

Andrei Shapran's images give the opportunity to see how this landscape lives on its own while uninhabited.
A monument on the coast at the western side of the Cape Schmidt settlement in memory of the sailors who did not return from the sea.
Cape Weber is a part of Cape North. A day or two more, and the sea will be hidden beneath ice.
An abandoned ship on the coast.
Andrei Shapran:

The goal of "The World's Edge Lands" is to tell about the territories which are beyond the common public attention.

These are always northern regions of the Russian Federation, closed for visiting and secret throughout the Soviet period. Today, they are not less difficult to access, though by the other, mere technical, reasons. The four-month trip to Chukotka in 2015 became another milestone in my project.

The name to this land was given personally by Captain James Cook who sailed along the Arctic coast of the Chukotka Peninsula in 1778. Cape North was the northernmost point of the continent the Captain reached. At that time Catherine II was on the throne of Russia, and these lands had been emerging on the maps from white spots.
At the Soviet time Cape North was one of the most closed places on the planet, where military units and an air defence base were located, and military planes were landing and taking off. It was called the "advance airfield" that would have been used by strategic aviation when it had been sent to bomb America.

Today, this land is almost free of people: the population has declined from 17,000 to some three dozens. The Cape Schmidt settlement was officially closed in 2003. Although little by little the military activity is returning to the airfield site, in the deserted settlement the changes could not be seen.
The monument to Otto Yulievich Schmidt at the entry to the settlement of his name, a view from the airfield side.
The closed hotel "Polyus" ("The Pole") on the territory of the closed airport of Cape Schmidt.
Cape Schmidt, a snowstorm. Discarded planes at the runway.
The strongest snowstorm roared here at the end of autumn – beginning of winter of 2015. Even for these areas the weather was utterly disastrous.

The local people never use the word metel', which is a common word for a snowstorm in Russian. This word is too soft, it is from the mainland. They call a snowstorm by more expressive and harsh word purga.
Andrei Shapran:

In front of my eyes in a few days the snowdrifts have grown up to two-metre height. The landscape had been transforming from the scarce colour scenery into pure graphics.

About ten times I came up to the same place, Cape Weber and Cape Schmidt (both capes together form Cape North). Every day all the surrounding there had been changing, continuously, hour after hour.
The Schmidt settlement with a view on the Chukchi Sea.
Abandoned remnants of radars. A panoramic view on the Cape Weber and national Chukchi settlement Ryrkaypyi.
An abandoned fortification at the approaching the airfield from the eastern side.
Andrei Shapran. From the photographer's diary, November-December, 2015:
"I come to these places trying to catch any connection between the past era and the modern time. I'm really trying, but the shore is getting buried by snow faster than I walk. Purga has been lasting for a few weeks. One area after another is getting closed for the passage."
The fortified military zone at the eastern side of Cape Schmidt.
The eastern side of the Schmidt settlement.
A shot through star on a child's grave (it's very old, dated by 1943) on the territory of the desolate air defence base.
Andrei Shapran. From the photographer's diary, November-December, 2015:
"A blizzard and poor visibility. It's hard, sometimes incredibly hard, to pull my feet out from viscous snow. In purga the light becomes dispersed and uniform. There's not enough light, the snow charges follow one after another. The gaps between these charges I use for photo shooting."
Purga on Cape North.
Purga on Cape North.
The remains of the fencing at the desolate air defence base.
Andrei Shapran. From the photographer's diary, November-December, 2015
"I'm getting out on the coast. Waves, filled with the sea-water ice, are breaking with a horrible noise. There, where the ice was dominating, the sea has got frozen turning out to the solid white field, and the border that divided the sea and the sky has vanished completely. There's the feeling of immensity, inevitability of the coming cold; of the total absence of any cosiness and comfort in these Chukotkan spaces."

"There is solitude on the coast and around. Not a living soul – at all."
A wave on the coast. Cape Schmidt.
On the coast. Cape Schmidt.
At the abandoned air defence base.
The purga voice, howling in the deserted constructions on Cape North. The video starts automatically, but if you scroll down further it falls silent almost instantly.
Andrei Shapran. From the photographer's diary, November-December, 2015:
"The endless purga blows throughout day and night. The colours are disappearing, the view is turning almost black and white. I come back inside with my fingers frozen and my face and eyes slashed by the scratchy snow. It's pointless to photograph against the wind. All my images in that weather were made with my back to the wind."

"The silent calmness in the photo – the boat and the white silhouette of Cape Kozhevnikov on the horizon – is deceptive. Five-ten minutes more, and the calmness will be swept off by the next blow of purga. Photography is becoming a hunt for those rare pauses between blasts, when the wall of snow shortly thins out."
Cape Kozhevnikov and the Chukchi Sea covered by the ice scum.
The East Siberian Sea, the last in the season hight tide on the coast nearby the Schmidt settlement. In a few hours the groundswell will come to a halt, all will be filled with shuga – the small pieces of crumbled ice that appears before freezing up.
The territory of the former military warehouses near the Schmidt settlement.
Andrei Shapran. From the photographer's diary, November-December, 2015
"As the local people warn it's nothing but easy to run into a polar bear in purga. A bear may appear in a very sudden way – from the sea. But the more important thing in purga is not to step on the beast lying in the snow. In autumn and winter here is their territory."
At the abandoned air defence base.
In the new graveyard. A few years ago the locals undertook an unsuccessful attempt to scare away the polar bears from the settlement. People brought out several dozens of killed walrus in the hills. The polar bears did not follow the bait and stayed on the coast, but from the tundra the brown bears came. And the latter are more aggressive. The brown bears had eaten the walrus carcasses and in the next year began to seek for human remains at the burial ground – digging out the graves, breaking wooden coffins... The local hunters tried to shoot off the bears reducing their number, but the bear vandalism have not stopped... Nowadays, they bury in the new graveyard, locking coffins in metal containers.
In the new graveyard.
Andrei Shapran. From the photographer's diary, November-December, 2015:
"The sea has stopped. For the last two days the temperature in my room has fallen down to 13 degrees Celsius, and in the kitchen, corridor and bathroom it was even less than 10°C."

"In purga the snow is like a stream of prickles flying into my face. It drags away and wounds the eyes, two-three hours outside leave the feeling as if you have stood at the runway beside a working jet engine for a half a day."
A monument to the IL-14 plane on the desolate territory of meteorological station was erected by a local enthusiast, Schmidt airport flight controller, Yuryi Dunaev. It commemorates the legendary aircraft that participated in the development of the Far North.
The former territory of the air defence base on Cape North.
Purga on the coast.
Andrei Shapran. From the photographer's diary, November-December, 2015:
"These places impress by their diversity and complete dependence on the elements of nature. The nature itself creates anew this world, forgotten by people."

"In the frost, the wrecks, covered by thick layers of the grey sea-water ice and buried in the sand, remind monsters. Silent, motionless, they stand on the coast, drenched in the groundswell, with huge icicles hanging from their limbs."
A desolate wreck covered in ice.
An abandoned ship on the shore. Purga.
The urban-type settlement of Cape Schmidt.
Andrei Shapran. From the photographer's diary, November-December, 2015:
"With all the severe dramatic character of this landscape, I think, to be here and witness these magnificent views is rare happiness, exceptional luck for a photographer."
The urban-type settlement of Cape Schmidt.
A panorama of the nearest inhabited settlement – a national village of Ryrkaypyi with the coastline of the Chukchi Sea. Its population is 600. The name of settlement means in the Chukchi language a "walrus's congestion".
Cape Weber is a part of Cape North. A day or two more, and the sea will be hidden beneath ice.
The author sincerely thanks the Nikon branch in Moscow, and Vladimir Volkov in person for the invaluable support during this expedition.
The Chukchi Sea shore, national Chukchi settlement Ryrkaypyi. An elderly woman with her dogs wades through the snowdrifts to butcher dead walrus carcasses on the coast.
Cape North in Wikipedia:
August, 1778
Cape North, as Cape Schmidt was then called,was first reached by James Cook when he sailed through the Bering Strait and into the Chukchi Sea, demonstrating to people in Europe and North America that Russia and Alaska were separated .
The modern settlement was founded as a part of the Soviet Union's attempts to develop the extreme north-east of the country.T he settlement itself, its airport, and the nearby cape were all named after Otto Schmidt, with Mys (Cape) Shmidt forming the central base for the enterprises involved in the mining of tin and gold.
The airfield was developed as part of the plan to create a ring of the Soviet Air Force air bases around the Arctic for the use of its strategic bomber fleet during the Cold War.
Cape Shmidt was granted urban-type settlement status.
Early 1990s
The focus on intercontinental ballistic missiles as opposed to bombers meant that the airfield became less important and eventually closed for military use. Around the same time, mining on an industrial scale also ceased. These two events caused a major outflow of people.
Mys Shmidta, importing nearly 30,000 tons of mainly American fuel, dealt with significantly more cargo than ports such as Pevek.
A federal government decision led to the establishment of an emergency radio station in Mys Shmidta as well as other northern Sea route ports to specifically monitor distress and salvage frequencies.
Mys Shmidta is still the main northern sea port in Chukotka along with Pevek.
About the photography author:

Andrei Shapran is a prominent Russian photographer, a prizewinner of multiple Russian and international photo contests.

He is a participant of numerous exhibitions and photo festivals in Russia and abroad. A member of the Russian Union of Photo Artists.

His photographs could be found on the personal web site.

Andrei Shapran
Photographer, journalist-freelancer
Re-publication of photos and (or) texts presented on this page is permitted only with written permission team.
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Фотографии и текст: Андрей Шапран | PHOTOPOLYGON.COM

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