A Frozen Canvas: 3 Creators' Work Beyond the Cold

Glimmer creators bring a mosaic of perspectives, experiences, and talents to our platform. Here we highlight some of those experiences that have taken our creators to places few have been: from remote Greenland glaciers to the frigid weather of China’s Jilin Province.

A Frozen Canvas: 3 Creators' Work Beyond the Cold
Photo by Daiwei Lu / Unsplash

Whitney Shefte

Whitney Shefte worked with The Washington Post climate writer Chris Mooney, who pitched this story about Petermann Glacier in Greenland as a piece with strong visual storytelling potential. 

“Before our trip, we had meetings with the scientists to get a sense of the plan, their motivations and what kinds of characters they would be. We flew together in a US military aircraft to Thule Air Force Base in Greenland for the first leg of our journey. We spent several days on the base preparing for our trek to Petermann Glacier via helicopter.”

Whitney traveled with a team of scientists to capture the shrinking of the glacier's ice shelf, climate change's role in its melting, and what it means for global sea level rise. The shoot was filled with uncertainty, but Whitney and the team persevered.

“Once we were there, we didn’t know for sure if we’d make it the rest of the way to Petermann. The scientists had arranged for barrels of fuel to be dropped along their route during a trip before, but when we got to Thule, the helicopter company said they may have accidentally used the fuel for the year. The distance from Thule to Petermann was too far without these refueling stops. So it was a trip with a lot of uncertainty. But we made it without issues in the end.” 

Whitney accompanied the scientists as they sought to discover what happened to ocean sensors deployed a few years prior. These sensors were designed to measure just how quickly the ice shelf was melting.

“We spent one night on Petermann while the scientists did their work. I filmed and took still photographs. Eventually, I laid down in my tent for a bit of sleep, though it never got entirely dark since it was August and so far above the Arctic Circle. And given that it was all ice and I only had a thin sleeping pad, it was a pretty cold few hours of sleep. The scientists said they thought, at least at that time in 2016, that I was the only woman who had ever slept on that glacier. I have no way of knowing if it’s true, but I call it my “world record moment” for fun.” 

Frederick Bernas

Frederick Bernas’ work on the film Glacier Dreams: Iceland highlights artist Refik Anadol’s new multi-sensory data installation. This ambitious project stood at the intersection of machine learning and environmental studies, leveraging artificial intelligence to create a masterful work of art. By collecting glacier images and sounds both virtually and in the field, Refik was able to generate artworks based on these datasets. Frederick got an even more granular look at Refiks thought process throughout his artistic development.

“I met Refik Anadol at the Noor Riyadh festival of light, where I interviewed him for a story in November 2022; I had been intrigued by his work for a while and jumped at the chance to learn more about his mesmerizing AI-generated installations. A few months later, he reached out because his studio needed a swiss-army-knife filmmaker with experience in cold climates – and he remembered chatting about the Antarctic Biennale, a groundbreaking event which I attended in 2017 to shoot material for another documentary.”

“Our film lifts the lid on “Glacier Dreams” – a long-term research and art project at the intersection of multi-sensory experiences, machine learning, and environmental studies, which explores our collective melting memories of a fundamental life force on earth. Diverse datasets are processed by artificial intelligence systems developed at the Refik Anadol Studio to create a constantly shifting panorama of glacial landscapes; the installation can take multiple forms including infinity rooms and large-scale projections in public spaces – vividly visualizing the perplexing issue of global warming for all to see.”

Frederick and the team had an incredibly tight time frame, especially when it came to prep and logistics - they had to schedule travel from multiple countries and had limited shoot days. In addition, Icelandic weather can be notoriously unpredictable, so they had to leave room for flexibility to ensure they’d get all the shots. “We also had to think creatively to protect our gear from the cold – like hacking together a battery warming kit with a hand heating pouch designed for golf players!”

Frederick has had the opportunity to work on other projects in extreme conditions, and can’t emphasize enough how important it is to thoroughly prepare “while also leaving a bit of wiggle room in case things change on the fly.”

“I was fortunate to work with a brilliant producer, Dasha Orlova, who conducted extensive location research and found a highly knowledgeable local guide, Gunnar. He has an uncanny ability to read the skies and improvise depending on weather conditions, as well as securing special access to popular tourist spots – which helped us optimize our small shoot window and bring back some of the strongest footage we could’ve hoped for.”

Patrick Chengzhi Wang

Patrick Chengzhi Wang is a Documentary DP who helped spearhead a three-episode series for Goldthread, a cultural micro-doc brand of the South China Morning Post. In 2021 he pitched an idea to the team that involved filming in northeastern China, a region known for bitter cold weather (with temperatures dropping as low as -40°C). They landed on three stories in Jilin Province - Patrick shot the stories, flew the drone, liaised with locals, and handled contingencies throughout the process. Patrick worked as a one-person team under pretty harsh conditions, and had some words of wisdom to share for anyone thinking of doing the same:

1. Always make backup plans. “During the filming, there are a lot of changes. We booked some interviewees. After I arrived, some of them changed ideas, and we had to seek other replacements to move on the shoot. Fortunately, we found new ones soon.”

2. Protect your gear. “I always put my gear in Pelican cases to travel with them. When I shot at the Ice World Park in the east of Changchun, Jilin Province, I had to leave my cases alone in a tiny prefab house. One day, after I got back from the construction site, I found a pile of ice gear on one of my cases. Perhaps workers did not know what was inside. Luckily, everything in the box was intact. I suggest that you avoid using soft backpacks or cases in such harsh conditions.”

3. Bring a warmer pad. “When I worked at a temperature of -40°C, my fingers often got numb. The warmer pad powered by a power bank can keep your hands warm. The cold weather drains the batteries of the DJI Mavic 2 Pro quickly. The gadget can help with it, too.”